Can’t Blame Him

When I did my tour of the Stadium of Light I saw the tunnel was coming up. I grabbed my son’s arm and told him to walk slower. Once everyone else had wandered out to the benches we broke into a jog and achieved an ambition.

I had run out at the Stadium of Light.

There was no one there and I was wearing jeans and carrying about three stone of timber but, hey, I ran out at the Stadium of Light.

The very thought of doing it to represent my club, to play in those red and white stripes that I’d worn since I was three and maybe hear the crowd chant my name… I genuinely don’t know how Honeyman does it without needing to breathe into a paper bag.

And if I did sign for Sunderland, I’d never leave. I’d be 45 and turning up at the Academy with boots and a hopeful smile.

But then, I’m a Sunderland fan.

If I’d have been born in Lewisham, worked my way through the Crystal Palace and Fulham youth teams, I probably wouldn’t care as much about running out at the Stadium of Light. To me it would mean everything, to that person it’d be going to work.

It’s important to remember that while we associate Josh Maja with being a youth team prospect, he signed for us at 16, not 6. People question his loyalty like he was born and bred here but he wasn’t. He’s a lad from London doing his job.

‘He owes us everything’ I read on social media. Really? I’d argue Fulham made him, we gave him a chance and he took it. He’s now been offered a different chance and he’s taken that. Good luck to him.

Bitterness won’t do any good and actually I think it would be misplaced. If I was him and someone offered riches beyond my dreams and a chance to be in Ligue 1 rather than League 1, I’d probably take it (if it wasn’t my club). I certainly would at 20 years old.

I wish him luck and I think he’ll need it.

Josh Maja will be a top player (I hope he will cos there’s a sell on clause) but there’s a long way to go in his development. He’s nowhere near the finished article and, as this season develops and the pressure builds, I’m quite happy to have someone who’s been there and done it before rather than someone who might or might not respond to the pressure (Stewart Donald take note). The fee that’s been mentioned is a good one for a player in the last few months of his contract who is totally unproven at anything other than League 1 level, and even then, only for half a season. Remember that, in the Championship, he got one goal in 17 appearances (and before you say it, yes, we were crap, but we were scoring goals).

For what it’s worth, I think he’d have been far better off staying with us and developing with the club. All being well he’d have been testing himself against Championship defenders next season and then, perhaps by 25, be playing in the Premier League. How much testing and even playing will he get in France? A different style of play, language, culture and, if he ends up doing an Asoro, tiny crowds on academy pitches as a reserve or U21 player all wait for him in France. I hope I’m wrong, he’s clearly a nice lad, but I can see him regretting this choice. I can easily see his career stalling in this move.

But what’s done is done. An offer was made (which his agent had asked for) and rejected. Twice. We mustn’t be held to ransom by agents in these situations. We thank him for his huge contribution this season and, as I say, wish him luck. But now we move on. Our focus must be on a replacement (or two). Someone who can hit the ground running and hopefully the Maja money can be used to spend a little bigger and bring in that missing piece.