Well it’s finally happened and Josh Maja is departing for pastures new as the following Twitter post from Nick Barnes confirms.
To clarify: @stewartdonald3 has told me Josh Maja has played his last game for #safc. They had hoped they could keep hold of him until the summer but the player took his belongings and said he was leaving. Negotiations are now being pursued with Bordeaux.
— Nick Barnes (@Tweed_Barnesy) January 23, 2019
Time to move on. Jack Ross is a pragmatic sort and will no doubt work with what he’s got and hopefully what he gets before the transfer window shuts. It’s not an ideal scenario, losing your top scorer and with Jerome Sinclair’s return to Watford and Andrew Nelson also being allowed to leave we are left a bit light up top, but as many will say, no player (and especially no agent) is bigger than the club. It is to be hoped that replacements are brought in quickly but with other clubs being fully aware of the situation can we expect potential targets to suddenly become more expensive?
Pete Sixsmith has his own take on the situation.
Nick Barnes broke the news on Wednesday night that Josh Maja had played his last game for Sunderland at Scunthorpe and that it was likely that he would trade the slog of Division One and trips to Accrington, Rochdale and Fleetwood for Bordeaux and visits to Marseille, Nice and Paris. The county Palatinate of Lancashire pales into insignificance when compared to the Cote d’Azur and the City of Lights.
It’s a shame but once the deadline set by the club had passed, it was inevitable. The only things left to decide were when he would go and where he would go. Girondins Bordeaux is the likeliest destination, a club formed in 1881 and who play in a stadium that seats 41,000 – in other words, a club that is similar to Sunderland in terms of history and support. They have been more successful than we have over the last few years, which wouldn’t be very difficult – probably about as difficult as being out-thought by Chris Grayling.
They won the Ligue 1 title as recently as 2009 and the Coupe de France in 2013, have produced two world class players in Alain Giresse and Jean Tigana and are currently sitting in 11th place in Ligue 1, 11 points away from a Champions League place and 11 points away from a relegation slot. My guess is that they will not be concerned with either at the end of the season.
When I heard the news that he was about to leave, I was not surprised. Had he been keen to extend his stay on Wearside, he would have signed the contract that the club offered him and perhaps gone on to fire in the goals that would take us back to the Championship and hopefully, help us to consolidate our position in that most competitive of leagues. But once he made it clear that he would not agree to deadlines, it was inevitable that he would leave and that he would go to a European league with Germany being the likeliest destination.
His agents, the Elite Project Group, have a strong track record in this area, engineering moves for Jadon Sancho from Manchester City to Borussia Dortmund and Reiss Nelson from Arsenal to TSG Hoffenheim. Both are the same age as Maja and both are flourishing in the Bundesliga. So, the move to France was a bit of a surprise.
French domestic football is not at the same level as the top leagues in England or Germany and the league is a procession behind the obscenely wealthy, Qatari owned Paris Saint-Germain. Whether Maja will flourish here, remains to be seen.
The move is disappointing but it is how football is in the 21st century.
Players look for moves to progress their careers and to extend their bank balances. Some, like Marko Arnautovic, are looking for a huge pay day in China. Others, like Alvaro Morata, need to get away from a club that no longer rate them. Maja does not fall into either of these two categories.
Financially, a new deal at Sunderland would have given him a comfortable bank balance. The manager liked him. He was a regular starter and was scoring goals albeit at a low level. He would have played a major part in getting the club up and then he could have tested himself in the Championship before making a move to the Premier League, perhaps back to London, his home city. Maja has benefited Sunderland and Sunderland have benefited Maja. The 16 goals that he has scored this season have given us a base to build on and the fee that he brings in can hopefully be used to bring in two replacements who can build on his good work.
On the other hand, the club have taken a young player who had not made it at Fulham and Crystal Palace and who was looking for a club. He came through the Kinetic Foundation, an organisation that uses sport to support disadvantaged young people in South London and I imagine that they advised him about the move to Wearside when he was 16. He worked his way through the Under 18s and Under 23s and arrived in the first team last season and scored within five minutes of coming on. This season, he has been first choice and appeared to have a good relationship with Jack Ross.
That relationship has clearly been strained recently and Ross has looked weary whenever a question was asked about Maja. It looks as if he had accepted that he would be leaving last week and that maybe the illness he suffered prior to the Luton game was as genuine as the ones I used to have if I fancied a midweek away game. The club find themselves in a difficult position. Keep him and they have a player in the dressing room who clearly does not want to be there. Keep him and they run the risk of losing out on what for us, is a substantial fee. Keep him and they risk upsetting what appears to be a harmonious first team squad.
On the other hand, sell him and they will be accused of doing what the club has done for many years – sell its best players. Starting with Colin Todd and running on through Marco Gabbiadini, Michael Bridges and Darren Bent we have weakened ourselves by taking the money and then frittering it away. Those who are not convinced by the current owners will use this to fuel their rants.
Some that got away.
I am disappointed that Maja has left, but I can understand why he has made the move. He would say that Sunderland have developed him and he leaves them in a stronger position than they were when he arrived. He has every right to turn down a new contract and look to see whatever else is available to him. The word “loyalty” will be bandied about and accusations will be hurled at a young man who has made a decision that has annoyed many Sunderland supporters. Those who have said that he lacks pace, has no physical strength and who does nothing but score goals, will be satisfied tonight.
Some of us are disappointed that another promising young player has left us, following in the footsteps of Joel Asoro and Paddy McNair. Interestingly, neither of those two have done anything worthwhile at Swansea City and Middlesbrough respectively.
I hope that things go well for Maja. He has scored some very good goals for us and his contribution to the cause has been extensive. But, should he ever appear at the Stadium of Light again, I cannot guarantee him a rousing welcome.