Several sources have recently reported that Sunderland starlet Josh Maja is very close to completing a transfer to French club Bordeaux for a fee of around £3.5 million. I’m sure I can speak for the vast majority of Sunderland fans when I say that this decision is a big mistake.
Who is Josh Maja?
You could be forgiven for not knowing the name ‘Josh Maja’ before the 2017/18. The Sunderland AFC academy graduate had only featured in a sporadic fashion prior to their relegation to the Championship. In a dismal campaign, Maja went relatively unnoticed, scoring a single goal in seventeen league appearances as the team found themselves in free-fall towards the depths of League One. Sunderland’s relegation was the catalyst for a mass exodus of players who somehow still maintained that their quality outstretched that of this new league. In the third tier of English professional football, Maja would finally get his chance to impress.
At the age of just 20, Maja had been tearing up League One this season. With an impressive tally of 15 goals in 24 league appearances, his goals had been integral to Sunderland’s promotion challenge. The team currently sit in third place in the league – an impressive feat for an overhauled squad fresh from the trauma of double relegations. With the full backing of new owners and a young, promising manager, Maja could have written his name into Mackem folklore forever by initiating their return to grace.
Maja had other ideas.
Amongst interest from both foreign and English clubs, Sunderland owner Stewart Donald sought to negotiate a contract extension with Maja at the start of the new year. Donald reportedly offered the striker a deal worth seven times the value of his current contract. For this academy graduate, however, such a value was somehow not good enough.
Intriguingly, from the narrative presented by the notoriously twitter-active chairman, it might not be Maja himself who made this decision. Donald posted a series of tweets documenting the perceived dichotomy between the desires of Maja’s agent, Eddie Bonsu, and the player himself. Whereas Maja initially seemed exceedingly open to the idea of returning to Sunderland, Donald remarks that his agent conveyed a heavily different opinion, largely influencing the striker to pursue a more lucrative deal.
With the emergence of several reports that the striker has worn the red and white stripes for the last time, it sadly seems that Bonsu – which is, funnily enough, an anagram for ‘bonus’ – has won this argument.
The Joel Asoro Paradigm
Maja’s situation draws several worrying similarities to another young, former Sunderland striker. Joel Asoro was effectively seen as a more talented and athletic version of Josh Maja as he rose through the Sunderland academy ranks. He featured predominantly towards the end of Sunderland’s Championship campaign, making 26 league appearances and scoring three goals amongst several impressive performances.
Asoro thus found himself in a similar position to that of Maja, as several Championship and Premier League clubs showed their interest in the young striker, offering obscene sums of money to secure his signature. Similarly to Maja, Asoro could have used this opportunity to showcase his talent and help restore the glory of a club which had stuck by him for the whole of his youth career. However, Asoro couldn’t resist the tantalising prospect of a fatter wage packet, securing a £2 million move to Welsh side Swansea.
It all went downhill from here.
As of January in the Championship, Joel Asoro has yet to solidify his place in the team, making only three appearances in all competitions and failing to score. At only 19-years-old, Asoro faces the prospect of languishing on the bench for the foreseeable future, watching his formerly promising career slowly stagnate and never progressing to the high level of football which he believed he was capable of.
Perhaps Asoro is fully content with a future of bench warming as his bank balance slowly increases; in which case, fair enough. To many Sunderland fans, however, this story reflects an incredibly sad case of a player who could have been a cornerstone of a regenerating club. Josh Maja seems fit to fall into this exact same trap. His transfer to Bordeaux, of all places, could well represent a dead-end move at this important stage in his career, stunting his potential and possibly condemning him to a fate similar to that of Asoro.
In short, this decision made by Maja is disappointing. I say this not only as a Sunderland AFC fan, but as a fan of football itself. Too often have young, high potential players seen their careers ruined by becoming blinded by money and slowly watching their prospects dwindle whilst permanently occupying the benches of wealthy clubs. His agent can be blamed to a certain extent; yet ultimately it is the player himself who signs the contract. Only time can tell what the future holds for Josh Maja. If he allows his career to degenerate in this way, he has only himself to blame.