Transfer tales: How Norwich City convinced Alex Pritchard to turn his back on Brighton
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In the latest in our series of Norwich City transfer tales, Mark Armstrong tells the story of what convinced Alex Pritchard to spurn Brighton for a move to Carrow Road
Chris Hughton had his man.
Alex Pritchard would become Brighton’s record signing after a £6m fee had been agreed with Tottenham and personal terms had been sorted.
After a frustrating season on loan at West Brom, Pritchard was aware that he remained well down the attacking pecking order at White Hart Lane. The likes of Dele Alli, Son Heung-Min, Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela were all ahead of Pritchard and Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino had told the player he could leave at the right price.
Brighton looked a good move. Having just missed out on Championship promotion the season before, Hughton looked upon Pritchard as the missing piece of the jigsaw. The former Canaries’ boss told Pritchard he saw him playing in a ‘number 10 role’ just behind Glenn Murray, who had been brought in on loan from Bournemouth.
All that remained was for Pritchard to complete a medical... and that’s where the fun and games started.
The medical had been arranged in a small West Sussex village called Lancing, about 10 miles outside of Brighton.
Pritchard and his representatives set off with the intention of putting pen to paper on a four-year deal with the Seagulls. The story goes that Pritchard was on the M25 when he received a phone call. However, it was a little earlier in his journey when Norwich City skipper Russell Martin’s number flashed up on Pritchard’s phone.
Pritchard was well known to Norwich. He had been largely responsible for inflicting Alex Neil’s first defeat at City boss when he orchestrated, and scored in, Brentford’s 2-1 win at Carrow Road.
The performance stuck with Neil and, having recently been spurned by Ross McCormack’s decision to sign for Aston Villa, the Scot was determined to get his man.
Brighton’s Pritchard deal was about to be hijacked.
City skipper Martin, Brighton born and bred, used his powers of persuasion whilst Norwich agreed a deal of around £8m with Tottenham and by Brighton’s own admission ‘blew them out the water’ over personal terms.
The south coast side were seething but, with Premier League parachute money burning a hole in Norwich’s pockets, they simply couldn’t compete.
“It was a difficult choice,” said Pritchard. “There was interest from both parties. For me it was purely a football decision, and getting to the Premier League, and I’m just here now and can’t wait to get started. I think it’s the best option for me.” Brighton would go on to have the last laugh.
Fitting both Pritchard and Wes Hoolahan into his side proved challenging for Neil whilst Brighton blazed a trail at the top of the Championship.
City’s 5-0 defeat at Brighton proved something of a tipping point in Norwich’s season and boy did the home supporters enjoy it. Pritchard’s every touch was booed in a largely anonymous display before he was replaced late in the second half. You certainly could forgive Pritchard if he was thinking of what might have been.
Pritchard exacted a semblance of revenge later on that season when he played a starring role in Norwich’s 2-0 win over Brighton at Carrow Road with keeper David Stockdale being credited with both goals despite Pritchard’s involvement.
However, Hughton’s side would go on to secure the second promotion spot behind Newcastle whilst Norwich fans would never truly get to see the best of Pritchard.
He would go on to suffer an ankle injury in a costly pre-season friendly at Cambridge, which saw him ruled out for three months. Upon his return he put in some bright performances, showing the kind of quality Norwich had expected to see on a regular basis.
However, just when it looked like Pritchard’s City career had finally got started, in came Premier League Huddersfield with a £10m offer and the player made it very clear he saw his future away from Carrow Road.
City made a small profit but head coach Daniel Farke was unhappy to see one of his crown jewels sold just when he looked like forming a mouth-watering partnership with James Maddison.
Norwich had no option but to cash in at the time but the following 18 months would surely get Pritchard thinking again of what might have been had he remained at Carrow Road.