As the clamour for Sunderland and Ross Stewart to extend their enormously successful partnership continues, there’s also another contractual situation that needs to be addressed as soon as possible - although this one should be far more straightforward.
Since his arrival at the club during the summer of 2021, Alex Pritchard has not only established himself as one of our most influential on-field performers but he’s also evolved into a leader, a player who sets standards, and someone around whom everyone, teammates and fans alike, can rally.
However, his current contract expires in eighteen months’ time, and it seems highly likely that, with an eye on the present and the future, the groundwork is being laid for an extension, and rightly so.
There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s keen to stay, and I also think that most Sunderland supporters would be delighted to see him remain on Wearside.
Pritchard is not a physically imposing player, nor is he gifted with explosive pace, but what he does offer is a level of footballing intelligence and an ability to retain possession that can be utterly pivotal. He also works extremely hard out of possession and is always front and centre when we click into our aggressive, press-driven style of play.
In the tight and twisty corridors of League One’s battles during 2021/2022, he began to shine following the Oxford game and was ever more influential from January onwards as we embarked on a run that culminated with promotion.
Warnings from Huddersfield fans about a supposedly questionable attitude proved to be a red herring, and he deserved to be on the right side of the Wembley playoff final result as much as any other member of the team.
Fundamentally, he was clearly signed with a view to one day playing Championship football with us, and now we’ve reached that stage.
At times during his Sunderland spell, he’s linked up really well with Stewart and although that’s not happened quite as regularly recently, thanks largely to injuries, it’s a partnership that could be very exciting.
I’m absolutely convinced that if they can both enjoy an injury-free spell in the side, we’ll begin to see the best of the former Norwich man once again. Stewart’s ability on the deck and Pritchard’s eye for a pass should be something that we can really bank on, and hopefully soon.
Much has been made this season about the quality of Sunderland’s set pieces, of which Pritchard has taken many, but that’s arguably the only frustration and it can certainly be rectified. Along with players such as Danny Batth and Corry Evans, his experience and know-how at this level have been invaluable, and the challenge of playing for a club of our stature clearly doesn’t faze him.
Extending his contract should be as easy a decision as the current regime have made during their time here.
At twenty nine, he’s still got a lot more to give and is clearly a positive presence in the dressing room- another key asset, given the youthful profile of our squad.
Could he be a member of a Sunderland team that eventually mounts a promotion challenge? Yes, albeit with the caveat that his role may well have changed by that point, but at this stage, as we embark on a slow and progressive build towards the level we’re all aiming for, that’s not an issue.
Monday’s game against Blackburn, during which we performed admirably without Pritchard, was proof that we do have the creative depth to cope if he’s unavailable, but most teams at this level would be more than happy to have an asset like him in their ranks, and any competition for places can only benefit the team.
Seventeen years ago, at the conclusion of the 2004/2005 Championship season, Marcus Stewart wrapped up his Sunderland career with a prolific season in front of goal as we won promotion to the Premier League, and he was able to bid farewell to the Stadium of Light as a winner.
In two or three years’ time, who’s to say that Pritchard couldn’t do something similar, and possibly conclude his career on Wearside in the most perfect style?