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Opinion: Pritchard is becoming the leader we need

Is he successor to Sessegnon or something different altogether? Mike Dunne takes a look at Alex Pritchard’s development into Sunderland’s most influential player.

Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images

When Alex Pritchard arrived at the club, I was unsure on whether it was going to work out for him and us- or not.

Pritchard came with a mixed reputation from his previous clubs. He was loved at Brentford and Norwich who praised everything he has come to be with us, whilst his move to Huddersfield did bring doubts. In hindsight, a bit of perspective was necessary.

Pritchard moved for big money to a struggling Premier League club. He also suffered injuries along the way. The move was not straightforward and it certainly did not work for either party. It is fair to say that this happens to most players at least once in their career. From his time at Sunderland thus far, Pritchard’s time at Huddersfield is looking more and more like the exception to the rule.

A London boy originally, Lee Johnson spoke at the time of his signing the “sacrifices” Pritchard made to join the club. It seems apparent that he saw it as a fantastic opportunity to rekindle his career and maybe moving further up north gave him the chance to solely focus on his football.

Sunderland v Lincoln City - Sky Bet League One Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Due to niggles and Covid related issues, the early part of his Sunderland career was stop-start. He made his first start in the league against AFC Wimbledon. It was clear to the naked eye that day that he had the potential to turn into a really good player for the team. Since then. he has only gone from strength to strength.

Over the past few weeks, and especially since the dismissal of Lee Johnson, Pritchard has stood up and taken responsibility on the pitch. He has fronted up.

At AFC Wimbledon and Burton in the SOL in recent weeks, Pritchard has been visibly seen fronting up to the fans and taking responsibility for the poor performances. In many ways, it would be easier to say nothing.

As a footballer, there are noticeable similarities in the way he plays the game alongside Stephane Sessegnon. Sessegnon had that low centre of gravity that he used to dictate and manipulate the play. He had the incredible ability to wriggle himself out of small spaces and also had a decent shot on him which led to him scoring a decent tally for Sunderland. Pritchard is quite similar.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Sunderland v Norwich City - Stadium of Light Photo by Owen Humphreys/PA Images via Getty Images

What the former Tottenham player has that Sessegnon didn’t was the ability from dead-ball situations. Pritchard has scored a number of free kicks for the team this year, as well as showing incredible consistency to get the ball into dangerous positions from free-kicks and corners. The most recent one was the free-kick for Bailey Wright’s header at the DW Stadium on Saturday.

One could ponder what we would have done without Alex Pritchard lately. In games such as Doncaster, AFC Wimbledon, MK Dons, and Burton, Sunderland lacked any sight of conviction or creative thread. Pritchard was one of the very few who offered a threat. He has turned into the deep-lying playmaker with the vision to read the game and see things that many cannot see.

In addition, he leads by example. I would be curious to see what Pritchard’s running stats are. He appears to be everywhere. From closing down to tracking back and carrying the ball out of defence with composure, he has led the front in this way.

There is also a cuteness and slyness to him that most of our team lack. Pritchard showed it on Saturday a couple of times where he slowed the game down by standing in front of the goalkeeper. It may seem like a small thing, but it is something that many Sunderland teams tend to lack.

It is imperative that we wrap Alex Pritchard up in cotton wool. With only a couple of months to go, Sunderland will need their main men to stand up. Pritchard has grown into that role. The club will rely on him heavily for the rest of the season.

Cheltenham Town v Sunderland - Sky Bet League One Photo by Ian Horrocks/Sunderland AFC via Getty Images
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