Whither Josh Maja? Without doubt, the lad has been pivotal to Sunderland’s encouraging season so far. Ten goals from 16 league games, almost a third of the team’s total, tells its own story.
It isn’t just the goals tally either. His all-round play is developing too. He retrieved his side from the clarts against Wycombe on Saturday and it was a puzzler why he didn’t start the
game (which surely won’t be the case against Walsall this week).
He is shouldering enormous responsibility for a 19-year-old, but looks to be thriving on it.
The problem is that Maja’s contract expires next summer. This has led to reports, of varying plausibility, about his future. Even his manager seems to be in the dark. Stay or go?
Jack Ross’ answer was: “We can’t say that with certainty until everything has been resolved from a contractual point of view.” But also: “I’ve still got every confidence that he will be here certainly for the foreseeable future.”
Supporters won’t be convinced either way until Maja has signed a new contract – for whichever club.
As usual, the keyboard sages are out there claiming to know exactly what the striker will do; confusing idle guesswork with informed opinion. This is generally appended to
unimpeachable, magic wand advice, prefaced with: “The club should just ...”
Sunderland want Maja to sign a new contract. Their negotiating options are limited. They can’t just slap an enormous price tag on him. That would only repel interest from other
clubs for the three months between the end of the next transfer window and the end of the season – and Maja could still sign a pre-contract agreement with another club in January.
That other club could then sign him for next to nothing, save for some compensation Sunderland might receive as he is under 24, which would be a fraction of his value if he had
two or three years remaining on his contract.
Even with compo we don’t know if his previous club, Fulham, would be entitled to a cut.
So it could be a cut-price sale in January, or little if anything in when the summer transfer window opens; then hope that Charlie Wyke comes good.
Sunderland can’t offer Maja a stack of cash to stay on Wearside either. They haven’t got a stack of cash. That doesn’t mean improved terms aren’t possible.
We should also remember the disease known as agents. Perhaps Maja has the only agent on earth who isn’t motivated by self-interest; who wouldn’t serve mankind better by entering a
more noble and respected profession, such as shoplifting. We can only hope.
The player is in a very favourable position. There can hardly be a Championship club who wouldn’t want him. Premier League interest is not out of the question either.
But surely he would be unwise to leave Sunderland; especially in January. He is playing and scoring regularly before big crowds.
More importantly: we’re under no illusions here, but where could he realistically go that would be “better”?
Even in the unlikely event of one of England’s richest clubs chasing his signature; would he ever be seen in their first team?
This could apply even in the Championship. Last summer saw Paddy McNair and Joel Asoro leave Sunderland for Middlesbrough and Swansea City respectively. This was understandable
as Boro and Swansea are a league higher, albeit smaller clubs.
Both have barely played.
Current chatter is that Bristol City, six points above the Championship’s relegation zone, are interested in Maja. It is difficult to see the appeal.
Looking further back, Maja is doing much the same as Marco Gabbiadini did 31 years ago in the old Third Division. Despite interest in him, Gabbiadini stayed at Sunderland all the way
to the top flight. He was eventually sold for what was then big money and scored hundreds of goals in his career.
And of course, we all know that if Maja or any other player signs a long contract, this does not mean he has to see it through. It just means he can’t leave for free.
I’m not just saying all this because I want Josh Maja to stay at Sunderland (although I do). I genuinely believe it’s in his best interests.
Play the long game Josh.