Craig Hope of The Mail has sensationally claimed that Declan Rice would have moved to St. James' Park earlier in the summer, had Mikel Arteta and Arsenal not come calling for him.
The North East football correspondent wrote an in-depth article for MailOnline yesterday looking at how Newcastle can make the jump from being underdogs to "top dogs", with one of the most notable lines in the piece being as follows:
We can reveal that conversations were had with Declan Rice and Eddie Howe would have loved to have found a way to make a deal happen. Rice even intimated he would have been keen if not for Arsenal.
This was in reference to the Magpies' apparent failure to sign a "physical" holding midfielder in Rice's mould this summer, instead opting to bring in the more dynamic and forward-thinking Sandro Tonali from A.C. Milan for around £55 million.
Hope believes this has negatively affected the balance of Newcastle's midfield, with Bruno Guimarães not being an ideal fit in the deeper-lying role of the midfield trio that has so far typically included compatriot Joelinton and Tonali.
Indeed, Hope effectively blamed Bruno's lack of suitability for our struggles in containing Moussa Diaby of Aston Villa and Phil Foden/Julián Álvarez of Manchester City in our opening two matches. The reporter also singles out the Brazilian for giving the ball away for Darwin Núñez's winner for Liverpool on Sunday.
It's hard to envisage a world where Newcastle, quite clearly hamstrung by financial fair play, could have afforded to splash a British record £105 million on Rice, despite his obvious quality. The club has only spent around £93 million net this summer, which was aided by the controversial sale of Allan Saint-Maximin to Al-Ahli of the Saudi Pro League.
Although they're very different players, it has previously been reported by Luke Edwards of The Telegraph that Newcastle's recruitment team believe Tonali can be as good as Rice in time, with one "senior" source quoted as saying:
He is a player we did not think in May would come, he was a player we feared was out of reach to us, but we’ve managed to get one of the best young midfield players in Europe who we believe will be just as good as Declan Rice over the next few years.
Let's hope they're right! Tonali's performance against Aston Villa on the opening weekend certainly showed his huge potential, but he has found it pretty tough since then.