Josh Maja exclusive: ‘I wanted to stay at Sunderland'
There are two sides to every story - and this is Josh Maja’s.
For a long time, the striker has stayed silent on the circumstances surrounding his Sunderland departure. But now it’s time to talk.
Maja, now of Bordeaux, is forging a strong career in the game having established himself as a regular at one of France’s most recognisable names.
But his exit from the Stadium of Light remains a constant source of rumour and intrigue.
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Stewart Donald himself admitted that the eventual agreement, which saw Maja leave for a seven-figure sum just months before his contract expired, represented a ‘bad deal’ for the club.
The Sunderland owner, though, reiterated throughout negotiations that Maja indicated his desire to stay. He was less complimentary of his agent, who he claimed was late for meetings with Richard Hill - even failing to turn up for one.
Talks eventually turned into a saga which engulfed almost half of Sunderland’s campaign - but how did Maja himself view those negotiations?
Speaking exclusively to the Echo, the 20-year-old said: “It was a bit of...it was up and down.
“Basically, I wanted to stay. Given the right contract, I would have stayed.
“But at the time, I don’t think Sunderland were prepared to give me what I wanted so when the opportunity to play in one of Europe’s top five leagues came up, I couldn’t turn that down.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, but it was one which to improve my career and my game I think I had to make.”
Maja’s decision was met with critique from all corners of the Sunderland fanbase.
While many understood the situation, there were quarters who were far more critical - leading the striker to admit he scarcely checked his social media in the months proceeding his exit.
But for Maja himself, the decision was a simple one.
A selfish decision? Perhaps - but the striker doesn’t believe that is a bad thing.
“I have ambitions in my career and in my life and this is just a stepping stone for me.
“I want to keep pushing and fans need to understand what players want for themselves.
“Even though that is a bit selfish, it’s a selfish game, isn’t it?
“For me it was important to make that move and playing at a higher level, it’s a given.”
While Maja’s relationship with the Sunderland support may have become somewhat fractured since his move, he retains a strong admiration for former manager Jack Ross.
Indeed, the striker was ‘saddened’ when his former mentor was dismissed by the Black Cats in October.
“I was very surprised and saddened to be honest with you.
“I’ve seen the good work he’s done with the club and the team, and obviously things weren’t going his way in the last few weeks.
“That’s part of football, but I guess the people above made the decision and that’s life.”