The two lessons to learn from the Lewis Grabban saga as Sunderland discover the perfect replacement

It has been just over a year since Josh Maja announced himself to the world of football.

Wednesday, 19th December 2018, 11:00 am
Updated Tuesday, 18th December 2018, 18:13 pm

There was unusual attention on Sunderland that day, anything other than a win meaning they would have gone a full calendar year without a home win.

It would have been a golden story for outsiders looking in but Maja had other ideas.

A wonderful turn in the box that left the defender stunned, and a finish that showed his trademark calmness at the vital moment.

On Saturday he did it again. The same box, but the other side and the other foot. His 13th of the season.

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It has been a remarkable and heartening rise but the popular Sunderland ‘Til I Die has underlined one of the short-term consequences of that goal.

Maja replaced Lewis Grabban and the striker admitted that being regulaly hooked by Chris Coleman was a factor in his return to Bournemouth.

Perhaps it was merely bullishness and a determination not to raise the white flag, but the noises behind the scenes that Sunderland would cope without him proved to be seriously misplaced.

The documentary leaves you rooting for his replacement Ashley Fletcher, a talented player and a good character, but the difference in quality of finishing was stark.

No, Grabban’s all-round contributions weren’t the best.

But strikers who can score without needing a hatful of chances are a rare thing and with Grabban on the pitch, Sunderland would have had a betetr chancer of staying up.

Of course, Coleman was absolutely right in one sense.

The culture at the club was not where it needed to be and the Black Cats could not afford to carry anyone who wanted to be elsewhere.

Whilst the Netflix shows are entertaining and paint Sunderland in an endearing light, they also offer the chance to reflect on all that went wrong and one key element of that was the shocking dependance on the loan market.

Loans can be a fine weapon for sides outside the Premier League, but only when used in moderation and when players a properly targeted.

The Black Cats got a great deal when it came to Grabban.

He was a fine player and they paid only a fraction of his wages.

That was the upside.

The downside was that they became a vehicle for Grabban and Bournemouth.

Grabban proved himself and after another successful loan spell at Aston Villa, landed a permanent contract at Nottingham Forest, where he has continued to score regularly.

Bournemouth were able to showcase his talents to other clubs and in the summer, cash in accordingly.

Other than the most short-term of considerations, what was ever in it for Sunderland?

One of the most refreshing aspects of the recruitment work done last summer was that the loan market was largely ignored and the players brought in had an incentive and desire to buy into the club and the region.

It is a crucial reason why such a firm bond has been built between squad, management and fans.

Seeing the new regime understand that has been refreshing and Grabban’s tale also offers two important lessons when it comes to Maja, who has emerged as a more than worthy successor on the pitch.

Firstly, that patience will be worthwhile as he builds on his talent in the coming months and hopefully years.

Assuming Stewart Donald’s confidence in a new deal proves to be well placed, Maja will have an incentive to keep improving and the coaching staff will have a significant incentive to keep working with him.

Sunderland will not only enjoy the pride at seeing one of their own develop but should the time come for a big club to call, they will be well compensated.

Secondly, it’s worth focusing on the things Maja can do superbly, rather than the things he can improve on.

Exceptional finishers are rare, expensive players.

They may now be playing at a lower level but Sunderland are in a wonderful position to have a player with Grabban’s composure but also one that they can consider their own.

He’s worthy of everyone’s support.