Alex Pritchard made the West Bromwich United bench, but didn't play a minute of the Baggies' 1-0 home win over Manchester United today, continuing a troubling trend whereby he has made a positive impact on his short stints of play, but hasn't been able to crack the lineup with regularity. But according to Baggies manager Tony Pulis, there's a reason for that, and it's maybe not what you think.
When Pritchard went out on loan to West Brom on deadline day of the January transfer window, a lot of Spurs fans, myself included, were pleased. Tipped to be Christian Eriksen's primary backup in the attacking band this season, this was supposed to be Pritch's big break in the Premier League, but he picked up a nasty injury playing for England at the U21 Euros and missed the first half of the season. Now he's healthy, but he's not fit, and was behind many of his Spurs competitors for first team minutes.
West Brom fans have given the thumbs up to Pritchard's ability and potential in his brief early stints in the Baggies lineup. So why isn't he getting more time? According to Pulis, it's not because he doesn't like Pritch. It's not even that he's not good or doesn't fit into the side. It's because Pritch is still, ostensibly, coming back from injury, and Pulis doesn't want to risk injuring him even further by thrusting him full time into what was until recently a relegation battle.
"Alex has come in and has tremendous talent," Pulis said.
"He was injured at Tottenham for a long time so it's just making sure and I think Tottenham are concerned we don't push him too quickly too soon.
The last thing they want is the kid to get injured again so it's just about being patient with Alex as much as anything else.
He's trained well, he's worked well and he's desperate to be involved.
"But sometimes you have to hold them back and we have a responsibility to Tottenham for that."
– Source: The Birmingham Mail
This is a reasonable position for West Brom and Tony Pulis to take. Quite reasonable, in fact. Pritch is just getting back up to full strength after his summer injury and the resulting surgery that set his entire season back. Loanee clubs have an obligation to do as much as they can to protect the players who are on loan at their club.
It also defeats the entire purpose of an Alex Pritchard loan. Spurs sent Pritch out because he was desperate for first team minutes somewhere, anywhere. In fact, he was reportedly very close to signing a loan deal back to the Championship with promotion candidates Middlesbrough or Burnley before the West Brom interest opened up.
Nobody wants to see Pritchard hurt, but it's clear that, amidst a somewhat turbulent West Brom season where they until recently flirted with the relegation zone, Pritch could help them a great deal. If the only reason Pritch isn't seeing match minutes is because Pulis sees him as a damaged flower, then the Midlands club isn't the right place for him.
The only way Pritchard is going to improve his chances of establishing himself in the Premier League -- and carve himself a role in a future Tottenham Hotspur side -- is to get minutes. If he's not going to get them at West Brom, then it probably would've been better for him to return to the Championship, a league in which he dominated with Brentford last season. At least there he'd be getting back up to match fitness.