How Lee Johnson persuaded Alex Pritchard to join Sunderland as ex-Norwich and Huddersfield man admits he lost his love for football

Alex Pritchard says he had lost his love for football when former boss Lee Johnson persuaded him to join Sunderland.

The 29-year-old signed a two-year contract on Wearside last summer, after being released by Championship club Huddersfield Town, and played a key role in the Black Cats’ promotion from League One.

When speaking to the media after Sunderland’s 2-0 win over Wycombe in the play-off final, Pritchard told the Echo: “This is my first promotion and the last time I played in League One I was 19 years old.

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“I didn’t want to play in League One. When I first came to the club I told a lot of people close to me that I don’t want to be in this league.

Alex Pritchard playing for Sunderland. Picture by FRANK REID

“I’ve come here, given it absolutely everything, played through calf tears to play and it’s just unbelievable to do it.”

Asked if he had doubts about dropping down to the third tier of English football, Pritchard replied: “I give a lot of credit to Lee Johnson.

“I spoke to him and he knew my situation, and my love for football probably wasn’t there. He got me here and he just said I need to make you love football again.

“I remember the words he said, he was like: ‘if you love football again I’ve got no doubts in you. If you don’t love football again, I know what will happen.’

“To be fair to him he made me love football again and made me get that oomph, that fire in my belly again.”

Johnson was sacked by Sunderland at the end of January before Alex Neil, who managed Pritchard at Norwich City, was appointed at the Stadium of Light.

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“Obviously things happened in the season and Alex Neil has come in, and I’ve played under Alex Neil. I know what he’s about,” added Pritchard.

“It’s all about working hard and he will give you freedom at the top of the pitch, and we’ve got the quality up there.

“The problem was we were conceding goals, we’ve stopped doing that and now we can see why.”

After joining Sunderland last year, Pritchard missed most of pre-season after testing positive for Covid-19.

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As a result the playmaker took a while to get up to speed, while he struggled to hide his disappointment while speaking to the press during the side’s tricky spells.

This was the complete opposite, though, and Pritchard was visibly ecstatic in the media mixed zone at Wembley Stadium.

“I’m really buzzing because it’s my first year here and I’ve done it, this team has done it,” he said.

“People like Lynden Gooch have been here for years and for us to do it for players who have been here for a long time, they have had so much hurt but we go again next year.

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“The togetherness in the squad is unbelievable.

“I’ve said about the times we’ve had some bad moments this year, but we keep coming back and the fans deserve it. They deserve it.”