Josh Maja hit the national press this week, featuring in a Daily Telegraph column penned by Sam Wallace.
The opening paragraph his article highlights why the youngster is attracting widespread attention; he is the leading teenage goal scorer in all four of England’s top divisions.
Maja has achieved this feat by bagging 11 goals in 19 league appearances and a Checkatrade Trophy goal away at Morecambe. Not only is he prolific, he scores a huge variety of goals; a lethal finisher with both feet and usually his head; (though not with the latter against Barnsley on Tuesday, unfortunately).
Surely the praise emerging in the national newspapers is matched by an enthusiastic Sunderland support, then? In most quarters, the answer to that is yes, in others, the response to Josh’s performances appears to be somewhat mixed.
I find anything other than admiration and praise for this young player’s contribution to be utterly mystifying. Much of what debate does exist concerning Maja, who it must be remembered, is just 19 years old, appears to focus on what he cannot do, or a perceived lack of effort.
I repeat, he is 19 years old, playing his first full season of senior football, up against some monstrous, physical, seasoned pro central defenders, who is scoring at a rate higher than one in every two games.
Rather than focusing on what Maja is learning to do, or where his weaknesses lie, why not enjoy watching what he can do? There’s plenty to get excited about. Nobody in League One can do what he can with the ball at his feet, particularly anywhere within 20 yards of the goal.
The way he uses his body, shifts the ball between his feet, goes left or right and, with unerring accuracy, finds the bottom corner of the net with almost every shot he unleashes, is simply outstanding. That he does so playing as a lone striker, up against an array of those aforementioned six foot-plus, 15 stone-plus beasts found at the heart of League One defences, is further testament to not only his talent, but his mentality.
As a little aside, Maja’s hold up play is also vastly underrated.
Give him the ball to feet and he will shift it in behind for runners. In many respects, he reminds me of Daniel Sturridge, albeit at a lower level, and had he been playing further up the football pyramid in a similar system, the chances are he would have been shifted out wide, much like the Liverpool man was in his younger days.
As it is, Josh has been tasked with leading the line in an exciting team that is scoring goals, a significant number of which he has been responsible for.
By all means, criticise where appropriate, in a constructive manner – he was, for example, pretty disappointing at Walsall. Otherwise, let’s enjoy and get behind a supremely talented young player who is terrorising opposition defences in a Sunderland shirt.
If he leaves, which I sincerely hope he doesn’t, we’ll come to miss him when he’s gone.