Whatever the reason for his Sunderland exit, Alex Pritchard will be missed

Watch more of our videos on Shots! 
and live on Freeview channel 276
Visit Shots! now
The midfielder is expected to wrap up a move to Birmingham City today.

I have a friend who has had a tweet (or whatever it is we're meant to call them these days - X communications, perhaps?) saved in his drafts for the past year or so. Having seen him ready it a number of times in recent months, I know for a fact that all it contains are three humble words: 'PRITCH FREE KICK!!!'.

It has since become a running joke between us that week after week, game after game, he has been unable to hit send on that joyous pearl. (The painful irony being that the one moment in which he could have actually done so occurred in a preseason friendly against Hartlepool United back in August that he was blissfully unaware of until well after it had passed.) Well, Richard, my dear marra, I am sorry to say that it is finally time to delete the draft.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

Alex Pritchard is leaving Sunderland after two-and-a-half years on Wearside, and is expected to complete a move to Birmingham City literally any minute now. Indeed, by the time you read this, he may have already been unveiled holding a royal blue scarf alongside a beaming Tony Mowbray. Just to twist the bloody knife a little further.

I, like so many Mackems, will be sad to see the little magician depart. His time on Wearside has often been characterised by a sense of baffled frustration as much as it has by his undeniable velveteen quality. There have been sporadic swathes of anonymity, especially of late, in which he has been inexplicably relegated to a watching brief, lurking in the shadows, magnificent and unused, while a downy-cheeked herd of jelly-legged foals has scampered about in his stead.

In fact, one of the most intriguing footnotes to this sorry saga is that it was only with Mowbray's sacking that his first team prospects at the Stadium of Light truly improved this season. Presumably he has been given overt reassurances that the affable chocoholic will deploy him more readily in the second city.

The exact specifics of his sudden exit remain quite hazy. On Friday, the Black Cats released a deliberately tepid statement announcing Pritchard's withdrawal from first team selection and expressing his desire to be sold with immediate effect. Less than a week later, he has his wish. There have been simmering whispers of unsatisfactory contract offers alongside wildly speculative and unverifiable idle chatter about growing disgruntlement with the current coaching regime. But ultimately all of this is murky and largely immaterial. Some will see Pritchard as a villain, some will see him as a victim - all that really matters is that he is no longer a Sunderland player.

Hide Ad
Hide Ad

And as is so often the norm in these twisting scenarios, it lends itself to a period of reflection. Because when Pritchard was in the side, and when he was operating at his majestic zenith, there were few players in the Championship, let alone Sunderland's dressing room, as influential, or as capable of the downright sublime.

We have seen it countless times; the relaxed glide through the heart of midfield, like a languid air hockey puck; the wideboy escapology, ducking and diving through narrowing gaps, maddeningly evasive, somewhere between Del Boy Trotter, a cocky mosquito, and a plume of smoke in a telephone box; the disembowelling passes loosed with all of the precise grace and erudition of a glinting katana blade swung at the tangled stubbornness of a Gordian Knot. On his day, Pritchard is still untameable, irresistible.

Perhaps it is fair to suggest that he didn't produce moments like his New Year's Day screamer against Preston North End quite often enough, and perhaps in the fullness of time those of a red and white persuasion will come to regard his unceremonious farewell as a necessary evil that allows other, younger talents to blossom and thrive in his absence, but in the here and now, there is no denying that Pritchard's departure feels like a body blow.

The internal politics are the internal politics and the machinations that have brought us to this point will likely remain unknowable for a good while to come, but speaking as a fan and from a fan's perspective alone, I can say, in earnest, that Pritch, you will be sorely missed on Wearside.

Comment Guidelines

National World encourages reader discussion on our stories. User feedback, insights and back-and-forth exchanges add a rich layer of context to reporting. Please review our Community Guidelines before commenting.