'Hugely important...': Michael Beale drops big hint on Alex Pritchard's short and long-term Sunderland future

Alex Pritchard almost left Sunderland in the summer but Michael Beale has said that he is a major part of his plans for the rest of this season
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Michael Beale has strongly hinted that Sunderland are looking to keep Alex Pritchard beyond the end of the January window, and has even suggested that the attacking midfielder's form could earn him a new deal at the club.

Pritchard almost left the club in the summer after the club made clear they would not stand in the way as he entered the final year of his contract, with an extension at that stage highly unlikely. The 30-year-old has nevertheless proven to be a vital player over the course of the season so far, and has been one of the standout performers since Beale's arrival.

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Beale was asked in his press conference ahead of the trip to Ipswich Town this weekend whether the club's stance on a possible departure has changed in this window given his current level of form. The head coach said he hadn't discussed it directly with the club, but suggested that his currently crucial role spoke for itself.

"I think at this moment in time, he's in the starting XI, he's playing well and he's fit and healthy," Beale said.

"I don't know the ins and outs of that [what's happened before], and it's not one that the club has brought to me. It's onwards and upwards as far as I'm concerned. All the decisions are club decisions but at this moment in time, he's in the team and playing well.

"I'm happy with him and he's happy with me. We're in January and there's 20 games to play, May is a long time away and anything can happen, but at this moment in time the club have asked me to get my eyes on the players and give feedback on what I think. I'm still going through that process but at this moment in time, everyone can see how well Alex Pritchard is playing and the fans really appreciate him as well."

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Beale was also asked whether the club would look to secure Pritchard to a new, long-term deal in the near future.

"Yeah, those things are always going on in the background," Beale said.

"I think when there's a change of manager, I think there's always a period where people want to see how the new relationships form. Alex is someone where we've worked with people we know in the past, so I was well versed on him coming into the club and I've followed his career.

"He's someone who gets our football club, he's been there in the promotion season, and since I've been in.. he missed the first couple of games with illness and then was excellent when he came on against Rotherham, scored a fantastic goal against Preston and then was the most likely player for us against Newcastle. He's super important to us, and those things will go on in the background."

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Asked about the possibility of a new deal last september, sporting director Kristjaan Speakman said: "There’s a group of players who have done really well and Pritch is in that.

"I think naturally players who are running into that final year of their contract and are a little bit older, they’re looking for security and to ensure they’ve got some years on a contract. We’re happy to engage in that when players are in the team.

"For Alex, he’s committed here and performed really well. Alex’s job is to try and get into the team like every player."