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Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round

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Alex Pritchard’s imminent Sunderland exit feels like an act of self-sabotage

Pritchard’s two-and-a-half year spell on Wearside looks to be at an end, but was he right to behave the way he did? Jonny Hawley offers his thoughts

Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

I suppose we were warned, weren’t we?

Huddersfield fans painted us a picture of a stroppy and unprofessional waster who cost the club close to a £15 million transfer fee and spent his time in Yorkshire struggling with injuries and being labelled a bad influence by a string of coaches and the owner.

By contrast, Alex Pritchard’s time at Sunderland had, until recently, been something of a success.

He contributed four goals and eight assists in League One as we ended our four-year exile and returned to the Championship.

He’s also made sixty five appearances in the second tier, contributing sixteen goal involvements, and he scored a belter in a win against Preston on New Year’s Day.

Despite struggling to cement a starting berth early in the season, the bond between Pritchard and the fans seemed as strong as ever, with repeated calls for his inclusion as Sunderland tried to settle on an attacking quartet under Tony Mowbray.

Then came the club statement before kick off against Stoke, reminiscent of a ‘Comunicado Oficial’ from Real Madrid in its ominous brevity.

The tone of the statement was cold and clinical, laying out the facts that Pritchard himself had withdrawn from the squad and future selection, and wished to leave the club. No room for ambiguity there on who was responsible for the decision.

Married with the fact that Kristjaan Speakman confirmed just days prior that the diminutive midfielder had been offered a one year extension at Sunderland, you can start to work out what may have gone on behind the scenes.

Pritchard is now edging towards the wrong side of thirty, the club has gone all-in on investing in youth, he’d had limited league starts early in the season, and had now been presented with a last-minute extension offer.

It doesn’t make for the most attractive of packages for the player, but here’s a better question: why should any of us give a monkey’s?

Pritchard is paid thousands of pounds every week to train and play football matches for Sunderland AFC, and he’s literally living the dream of every single one of us that’s ever supported the club.

I’d pay every penny I’ll ever earn in my life to pull on the red and white in a Wear-Tyne derby, and Pritchard got to do that less than a month ago!

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

He’s taken his privileged position, his goodwill from Sunderland fans and a club who gave him a chance when he’d been cast to the wayside, and he’s spat in all our faces.

Why should we feel any sympathy for a man who’s petulantly thrown his toys out of the pram in the middle of the season?

When Alex Neil turned his back on the Stadium of Light in a similarly slippery manner, the fanbase rightly closed ranks and have enjoyed every moment of misery the dour Scot has experienced since.

Indeed, it’s a strange sort of symmetry that the club that poached our former head coach were the backdrop against which the Pritchard drama began to play out. Neil abandoned his charges whilst under contract to travel halfway down the country to watch Stoke play, leaving a rudderless young Sunderland side to succumb to Norwich.

This still annoys me, as it was such a flagrant display of disrespect and disdain towards us from a man who wouldn’t have escaped League One if it weren’t for us giving him a job in the first place.

Stoke City v Sunderland - Sky Bet Championship Photo by Jess Hornby/Getty Images

Turning your back on a club is one thing, because there’s little loyalty left in football these days after all, but to leave the club up the creek without a paddle while still collecting a paycheque is reprehensible and cowardly.

How, then, is there any material difference between what Neil did and what Pritchard’s done?

By all accounts, the club were prepared to let him go over the summer, bringing in Jobe and Bradley Dack as pre-emptive replacements, but nobody seemed willing to pick him up.

Sound familiar? Nobody else willing to come in for him, just like in July 2021, and Sunderland were there to put a contract offer in front of him.

Yet the reward is for Pritchard to effectively go on strike, and I use that word loosely, as strikes generally have something more important at stake than the whims of a disenchanted footballer to back them up.

Sunderland v Newcastle United - Emirates FA Cup Third Round Photo by MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Pritchard downed his tools at a time when the club needs unity more than ever.

No matter what your view is on the many issues surrounding the club at this moment, every one of us wants Sunderland AFC to be a success. For that to happen, everybody, from the owner, the head coach, the fans and the players, has to be fully committed and pulling in the same direction.

For one of the camp to break ranks and unilaterally decide that he’s just more important than that is unforgivable.

Pritchard has made his bed, and he can lie in it; after all, nobody will value Pritchard as much as Pritchard does.

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