Jermain Defoe has taken hot Sunderland prospect Josh Maja under his wing after the 17-year-old’s potential instantly impressed Sam Allardyce, writes Chris Young.
Striker Maja travelled with the Sunderland first-team squad for the final day of last season at Watford and warmed up with Allardyce’s men prior to the 2-2 draw.
The ex-Manchester City teenager had immediately caught Allardyce’s eye in his first session with the first-team a few weeks earlier and he continued to train with them.
Maja is likely to be involved at some stage during pre-season – with the Sunderland squad returning to work on Monday – and Player of the Year Defoe will personally continue to help him make the most of his potential.
England international Defoe has been mentoring Maja on the training ground, with the two frontmen warming up together at Vicarage Road.
Although Maja is rated as one of the top prospects emerging through Sunderland’s academy, he is a raw talent, with the Lewisham-born frontman yet to even make his debut for the Under-21s.
The ultra professional Defoe is the ideal role model, with Allardyce aware of the challenge in converting potential into what could ultimately be a first-team player.
“The talent is there with Josh and the question is can the player develop his talent so that he is knocking on the door of the first-team?” said Allardyce in the club programme at the end of last season.
“It might be a bit early yet but the earlier they come and train with us, the better it can be for young players.”
While Maja is one for the future, Allardyce’s immediate focus is to add a new frontman to his ranks to complement the potency of last season’s 15-goal top scorer Defoe.
As reported earlier this week, Diafra Sakho remains on Sunderland’s short-list, with any move being held up by West Ham’s desire to bring in a new striker first.
But Sunderland have also been offered the services of ex-Manchester City striker Edin Dzeko, with reports in Italy yesterday that the Bosnian wants to remain at Serie A outfit Roma.
That is not necessarily a surprise, with the speculation over Dzeko thought to have been agent-led after he has been offered to a host of clubs across Europe.
Sunderland would not have been able to come anywhere near Dzeko’s £130,000 a week Roma wages either.