Good luck to Josh Maja: I suspect he'll need it

If I had to name one Sunderland player whose departure in this month would cause most consternation, there could only be one answer.

Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 3:47 pm
Updated Tuesday, 29th January 2019, 4:02 pm
Josh Maja.

Jon McLaughlin.

However, Josh Maja skedaddling down to the Garonne is also a potential disaster. Or not at all; depending on what Sunderland do now.

Maja came through the academy system at Sunderland.

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It remains to be seen if he might even have done his former employees a favour. That will only be the case if SAFC, having trousered the cash, are promoted without him.

I am among those who would have preferred him to stay: but not come-what-may and only if his heart was in it. The discontent among some, but certainly not all supporters, is understandable. But the club had very good reasons for selling Maja.

If a player – any player – wants to leave a club; then get rid. In recent years there has been a whole mob of players on Wearside, talented and otherwise, who didn’t want to be there: with spectacularly horrible consequences.

Technically, Maja could have been forced to see out his contract. Reality dictated otherwise: not least because he would have left for almost zip in the summer.

Debt must be paid. At the last count, Sunderland owed £40m to former owner Ellis Short with a further estimated £25m due to other clubs in outstanding transfer fees. None of this was kept secret.

One of those creditor clubs is Bordeaux, Maja’s new employer, who depressingly are still to receive their entire fee for Wahbi Khazri’s move to Sunderland three years ago.

Sunderland’s current majority owner is not an especially rich man in football terms. The commitment of the much wealthier Juan Sartori is in doubt and the club is still obliged to pay salaries that they really can’t afford.

So the issue of why have they taken a possible £3.5m for a largely unproven third tier player who wanted to leave, or is not what might be termed a head-scratcher.

Ditto: “What happened to the parachute payments/money we got for so-and-so?” and similarly silly questions.

Did the club do the right thing with Maja? Of course they did. The subject is not even worthy of debate. To imagine otherwise is to lack information; or be rather slow on the uptake.

A topic more deserving of your discussion is what to do now.

And what of Maja himself?

I wish him well. He didn’t “do a Darren Bent” because he gave no suggestion he would definitely stay. His departure was hardly a shock and not entirely attributable to money. He gave his best until the end and the lad owed nothing.

Sunderland gave him his chance and he took it very well. But if it hadn’t been of use to the club, he would have been shown the door this summer and not even given money for the bus home. It works both ways.

I wonder if he thought of other former leading lights at the club who left in the hope of betterment.

Paddy McNair left last June to play at a higher level than League One. This seems reasonable. A pity for him then that he has started only four of Middlesbrough’s 28 league games this season.

Joel Asoro hasn’t featured for Swansea City in almost four months and his confidence is rock bottom.

Look back all the way to 1991 when Marco Gabbiadini left Wearside aged 23. No one could say he endured a bad career afterwards. Yet neither could anyone argue that his best days were not at Sunderland.

There have been some who attained greater things post-Sunderland. Jordan Henderson and Jordan Pickford starred in last year’s World Cup.

But they were established Premier League players and England squad members when they moved. Maja is a light year from that sort of level.

He may prove to everyone that his transfer to Bordeaux is the right one. Time will tell, but I already doubt it.

Bordeaux are mid-table in Ligue Un, which is a higher standard than League One but still not great, other than one side who will buy the title yet again this season.

If Maja’s move was no surprise in itself, the timing still seems odd. Surely he could have secured himself a better deal had he seen out his Sunderland contract, which would have effectively expired when the season ends in little more than three months time.

This would have left him as a free agent, available for no significant transfer fee and therefore in a better position to haggle for a larger salary: even if skint Sunderland would have only received around £300,000 in such circumstances.

As to what he can expect on the pitch at his new club: well first of all he has to make it onto the pitch in the first place.

His new head coach, Éric Bedouet, hasn’t affected ecstatic enthusiasm about his new charge. In fact, le gaffeur doesn’t seem entirely sure who Maja is.

Monsieur Bedouet said: “Apparently this season he scores goals.”

I hope for Maja’s sake that there will be no parallels to draw with Bent, who eight years ago effectively forced Sunderland to sell him so he could land a pay rise at Aston Villa that he obviously didn’t need.

That transfer began the steady descent of his career down the u-bend, culminating in him becoming what he is today: unemployed, overweight and still only 34.

It took Sunderland four years to replace him with Jermain Defoe. Aston Villa had little return on their £24m “investment.” It was a disastrous move for all parties concerned.

Except for Bent’s agent.

Josh Maja would be advised not to think of any of this: especially the part about only the agent benefitting. Good luck to him. We suspect he’ll need it.