STEVE BRUCE will hold discussions with Matt Ritchie about his future at Newcastle United, but accepts he might not be able to provide the 31-year-old with the assurances he is looking for when it comes to his likely level of involvement next season.

Ritchie came close to leaving Newcastle in January, but a proposed deadline-day return to his former club, Bournemouth, collapsed, resulting in him remaining on Tyneside.

A training-ground clash with Bruce in the wake of February’s 1-1 draw with Wolves looked like ending his chances of featuring regularly this season, but a change of defensive formation resulted in him returning to the starting line-up for last month’s game with Tottenham and he has been stationed at left wing-back for each of Newcastle’s last five matches.

He is contracted to the summer of 2023, but Bruce will be talking to him in the next few weeks to discuss his future plans. A lack of first-team opportunities was the key factor in the 31-year-old agitating for a move in January, and while he finds himself in the starting line-up at the moment, the wider picture has not really changed.

“I’m delighted with how Matt has played,” said Bruce, ahead of tomorrow evening’s game at Leicester City. “It’s been well-publicised about this row, or whatever you want to call it, but the one thing you cannot deny with Matt Ritchie is what he produces in training and what he is as a professional.

“He’s impeccable in that respect. Matt’s big problem is that he wanted to play, and he wants to play every single game. I couldn’t guarantee him that. The situation we find ourselves in at the minute, and the system we’re playing, suits him very well.

“He’s very good at that. But he’s in an area and a position where we’ve got healthy competition. I’ll have discussions with Matt, but I’m delighted that he’s done exactly what we thought he would do.”

Bruce always maintained that reports of the pair’s training-ground altercation were overblown, so he has not been surprised at the professional manner in which Ritchie has buckled down in order to win back a first-team spot in the last couple of months.

“He’s infectious, enthusiastic, and we all know what he is,” said the Magpies boss. “He’ll find an argument in an empty house mind, but he’s terrific at what he does. In terms of being a pro, he does everything right.

“He trains well, works hard and has got an infectious enthusiasm. His only problem, I believe, is when he is not in the team, and I can fully understand that. He’s been like that since he was a kid, he’s always wanted to play. So, I understand totally that when you’re not playing, you get frustrated and get yourself into a place where you maybe don’t want to be.”

Ritchie is one of a number of Newcastle players whose futures are somewhat uncertain. Fabian Schar, Federico Fernandez and Paul Dummett are all reaching the end of their respective contracts, and while there has been talk of a possible extension for the former, significant defensive changes are likely.

At the other end of the pitch, Dwight Gayle has been offered a new deal but is yet to sign, Andy Carroll is expected to leave as a free agent and Newcastle are braced for some extremely tough negotiating with Arsenal over the future of loanee Joe Willock.

There will be incomings, with Celtic’s £8m-rated defender Kristoffer Ajer the latest player to be linked with a possible move to Tyneside, but Bruce claims any detailed transfer discussions will remain on hold until Newcastle’s Premier League survival is 100 per cent guaranteed.

“I have a meeting with Steve Nickson (head of recruitment) every week when he comes into the training ground,” said Bruce. “That's a constant. But the really big decisions have been put on hold until we secure our Premier League status.

“I think that's only right. Our total focus is on the club and keeping it in the division. Let’s be fair, a few weeks ago we were really up against it, we still are. We can’t take anything for granted. The big, huge discussions should only take place when we have secured our Premier League status. When we know where we are.”

However, even if, as now looks extremely likely, Newcastle find themselves planning for another season in the top-flight, Bruce does not expect this summer’s transfer window to feature the kind of big-money moves that were commonplace in the past.

“Every club will be the same,” he said. “They will be looking at Bosmans which are always attractive for obvious reasons. But I have to say to everybody, I can’t see there been swathes of money anywhere in the Premier League.

“The discussions I’ve had with other managers, the situation is the same. The football world has lost millions during Covid. I can’t see a load of money being spent this summer.”