STEVE BRUCE has promised Joe Willock he will be able to shake off his ‘super-sub’ tag if he joins Newcastle United this summer – because he will find himself in the starting line-up next season.

Willock’s loan deal is due to expire at the end of the current campaign, with his future the subject of fervent debate following Bruce’s public admission that he would love to sign the 21-year-old permanently.

The attacking midfielder has scored three goals in his last three appearances, with all of the strikes seeing him find the back of the net despite starting the game on the substitutes’ bench, but he will be unable to make it four in four on Sunday as he cannot line up against his parent club, Arsenal.

Willock wants to be known as more than a ‘super-sub’, and Bruce is confident the youngster would have a much more central role if he was to find himself back on Tyneside next season.

“If we can get him for next year, he won’t be a super-sub,” said the Newcastle boss. “I think he’ll be playing. We’re delighted for him, he’s had quite an unbelievable few weeks.

“To score the equaliser against Tottenham, to score against West Ham, and then to go to Anfield and do it again is quite remarkable. I’m pleased for Joe. He’s got the football world talking about him, and it was key for him to come here and show what he’s got.

“We’d love to keep him, but that’s obviously a conversation we have to have and respect Arsenal too. He’s 21 years old, so he ticks all the boxes as far as I’m concerned.”

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta has not made any public comments on Willock’s future in the last few weeks, but it has been suggested that the hierarchy at the Emirates have suggested that £20m is their minimum asking price for the England Under-21 international.

Bruce insists he has not held any discussions over a possible fee, and continues to claim that he does not even know if Willock is going to be available once the transfer window reopens.

“I don’t know where the supposed £20m price tag has come from,” he said. “The most pressing thing is that we have to have a conversation with Arsenal, and we have to respect the fact that he’s an Arsenal player, and he’s a young player too.

“We don’t even know if he’s available yet. Until we have those conversations with Arsenal, there’s nothing really else to say.

“I do know that Joe’s enjoyed it here – why wouldn’t he, the football world is talking about him? Three in three goals, coming on as a sub, has got everybody talking about Joe Willock. He’s done very well for us as a really young lad, we’re delighted with him.”

If Newcastle are given the green light to make their move, Willock’s personal preferences will become key. The Londoner had never previously played outside his home city prior to moving to the North-East in February, but he has enjoyed his time in the region, potentially making it easier for Bruce to persuade him to permanently relocate.

“He’s enjoying himself here,” said the Magpies boss. “I just heard him the other day, and he was talking about going down the coast and having a day out like that. He’s enjoying being in the area, and of course he’s enjoying himself on the field and he’s been quite successful for a young lad of just 21.

“Four goals in ten games is something pretty special. It’s been a fantastic thing for him, and he’s been nothing but good as far as I’m concerned. In terms of the future, the fact he’s happy and likes the area always helps.”

As well as looking to recruit players, Bruce is also set to sanction the summer departure of a number of members of his first-team squad. Andy Carroll is unlikely to be offered a new contract, while Christian Atsu and Henri Saivet will both finally depart as free agents.

Dwight Gayle has been offered a new deal, although it currently remains unsigned, while the Newcastle hierarchy are also set to step up contract discussions with Jacob Murphy, who is about to enter the final year of his current deal.

Then, there is Allan Saint-Maximin. The Frenchman has been in superb form since returning from injury last month, with his performances sparking inevitable speculation about his future, but Bruce is adamant he does not want to lose the winger this summer.

“The last thing we want to be doing is selling our best players,” he said. “For Allan, he needs to find a consistency when it comes to staying well and staying fit. Covid hit him badly, but you can see that when he’s playing injury-free, then he is a special, special talent who will inevitably draw interest. But the last thing we want to be doing is selling our be