No Sunderland fan can have failed to realise the unfolding situation surrounding Josh Maja’s apparent indecision in committing to a new contract that would prevent him walking away from the club for next to nothing at the end of this season.
As last season ended dismally with relegation to League 1, Sunderland fans had very little to feel optimistic about. However, a ray of light was cast into our minds with the emergence of Maja and Asoro under Chris Coleman’s spell as manager. Two young lads playing without fear and displaying flashes of brilliance, appeared to be exactly what the club needed after all the high earning journeymen were about to jump (or be pushed) from the not so Jolly SAFC ship.
As this season started, Charlie Wyke was signed to be our main man in front of goal, but that plan has been derailed until now. We needed a new man to get the goals that Wyke was signed for. Many, likely Jack Ross included, thought Maja may take some time to develop his game, gain consistency and take on the responsibility of firing a club like Sunderland to promotion.
Maja’s best mate, Joel (with no shortage of persuasion from his agent) engineered a move away from the club to sign for Championship side Swansea City. Apparently, he was too good for Sunderland and/or League 1. His career would be better served in a higher division and he was ready for it. So be it. As most fans say in this situation – on ya bike son, we don’t want an uncommitted player no matter who you are or how good you think you are.
So then, how has Joel fared in Wales? He started well. The Swans fans were raving about the lad as he ripped through opposition defenses in pre-season. He went on to start three of their first five competitive games. At the time of writing Joel has not made a first team appearance since October 6 (as a sub). All in all, I’m guessing it hasn’t exactly gone to plan for the young Swedish international. With Swansea appearing to be fairly stacked in his natural position, one has to wonder how much benefit Joel has had from this move at a key age in his development as a potential Premier League player.
Another of our promising young lads from last season was Paddy McNair. He’s started three league games for Middlesbrough since moving down the road to the land of Smog.
It’s interesting, admittedly in hindsight, to see how much of a risk these young players have taken at such a key stage of their development. Of course, nobody could guarantee regular games at Sunderland, but you’d have to argue it was likely for these two players in particular (especially McNair). How good was the advice of their agents? Have potential thoughts of grandeur, a higher pay packet and a supposed fast track to the Premier League benefitted them in the short term? These three lads, Maja included, are players I’d strongly argue needed regular starts wherever they were playing.
Now we move on to Josh, who stayed on with us and impressed Jack Ross from the off. In his first real season he’s been a first choice starter and netted 14 times in 22 league games. Despite the ongoing debate in some quarters on how good he a player he actually is, surely nobody can deny how crucial his contribution on front of goal has been? Dare we think where we’d be now without those goals?
So, my message to Josh is this. Josh, don’t be a Joel! Develop at Sunderland. You need games, you need to be a regular starter and there's literally no better platform for you than Sunderland AFC.