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Roker Roundtable: What can we learn from Sunderland’s sale of Josh Maja last January?

Josh Maja has found his feet in the French top flight with Bordeaux, and having broken into their team he’s started scoring goals regularly. What can we learn from the way that Sunderland handled his departure last January?


Q: When you see that Josh Maja is starting and scoring goals regularly now for Bordeaux, how does that make you feel about the way his departure and subsequent replacement was handled last January? What lessons can we learn from it?

Damian Brown says...

I’d say hindsight is a b*tch but this doesn’t really apply here, because Josh Maja was scoring freely when we moved him on.

It feels very much like Sunderland don’t know a good thing when they see it. There must be a kind of arrogance in the assumption that, because your young, recently U21s striker is scoring whenever he touches the ball near the goal, this ability must be in abundance if we look in and around the same places that Maja came from. Big mistake.

I wasn’t overly sold that Maja wanted to stay when Bordeaux showed an interest, and I can certainly appreciate that keeping youngsters in the face of that kind of temptation is a difficult task, but if we’re honest with each other it’s not a complex solution to a simple problem; it’s a matter of cash.

It can’t even be said that the owners were scared of spending big money to be able to make the claim that Sunderland have a top League One goalscorer, since we’ve all been forced to witness Will Grigg’s unsteady beginnings, and he undoubtedly cost more up front and long term than agreeing to Maja’s (no doubt extensive) demands.

Part of me was pleased that the young lad wasn’t firing straight away at Bordeaux - it cushioned the Grigg blow and had me shrugging and thinking the club had done what was best when faced with the difficult contract of a talented but potentially average player. Selfish of me, yes, but I understand why I felt that way when I hear of him banging in goals under brighter lights than we could give him, but which we’d likely be closer to had we not let him go.

When all is said and done it was a balls up, there’s no denying it. The reasoning behind it eludes me, and I imagine there will never be an honest account of that mistake forthcoming, so it’s our lot to grit our teeth and expect that better things are to come.

It’s getting harder to do that as the days go by.

Oxford United v Sunderland AFC - Carabao Cup Round of 16 Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Paul Fletcher says...

The main lesson we can learn is that, in football, you have to be flexible and occasionally make a compromise to serve the greater good. Donald and Methven announcing their intentions to take a strong stance against agents and end the ‘p*ss-taking party’ at Sunderland was music to mine and many other supporters’ ears.

After years of Rodwellian levels of p*ss-taking, they were right to try and set a precedent and when it came down to it, they stuck to their guns and didn’t let Maja or his agent hold the club to ransom. Ultimately, this backfired more spectacularly than anyone could ever have imagined.

Had they been a bit more flexible and said “Josh is absolutely irreplaceable, and we’re keeping him here no matter the cost – we have to make an exception”, it could maybe have been seen as a sign of weakness early in their tenure. But I don’t think many fans would have questioned it, given that he was doing the business on the field and was a perfect fit for the Jack Ross style of football.

The official word was that we offered to pay him 7 times what he was on and that was not enough to convince him to stay. Maybe his mind was already made up to leave and he would still have left even if we’d offered him double or treble that amount. We’ll never know.

So, instead of Maja’s agent taking the p*ss, we ended up in a desperate situation where Wigan’s chairman could take the p*ss and sell us an out of favour, out of form, injured Will Grigg for at least triple his real value. I think it’s pretty fair to say that it hasn’t really worked out for Grigg here so far.

If they’d broken the bank and Maja had stayed (and stayed fit), where would we be now? I honestly believe that he would have scored the goals to turn all those 1-1 draws into 2-1 wins and fired us to automatic promotion. In the summer, the club would have secured huge investment/a takeover and been in a great position to afford/attract a squad capable of competing in the championship. Today, Jack Ross would be giving a press conference discussing whether we can reach the play-offs and fielding questions about rumours of a £20 million Premier League move for Maja.

Instead we’ll have Phil Parkinson discussing whether relegation is a real worry and fielding questions on the fitness of Charlie Wyke. But I don’t let it get me down.


Phil West says...

I have no doubt that until we escape this league, the spectre of Maja will continue to hang over the entire club and will be used as a stick with which to beat those in the boardroom.

I certainly didn’t want him to leave, because his goals during the first half of the 2018/2019 season were a precious commodity as we attempted to mount a promotion challenge. Maja was a pure, out and out goalscorer, and despite the criticism of his supposed lack of workrate, he did what our current crop of forwards are struggling to do: hit the back of the net.

Maja seems to have found his form out in France now, and that’s great for him, but I do believe that at some stage we have to move on. Players leave football clubs, but it’s how you replace them that counts - and on that front we failed dismally.

Should more of an effort been made to keep him? Perhaps, but if what we were offering him financially didn’t suit him, or perhaps more accurately, his agent, there has to be a limit as to how accommodating you can be.

Should we really have broken the bank to keep him, given how precarious the finances were last season? Most would say yes, but from the club’s perspective perhaps it was a case of playing hardball and seeing who blinked first. In the end we lost out.

Although Maja’s departure was a blow, in fairness nobody could’ve realistically predicted that the Will Grigg we actually signed would turn out to be a pale imitation of the player whose record in this division was excellent - and who, on the face of it, appeared to be the ideal man to replace Maja.

With the passage of time, however, it’s become obvious that the timing and the execution of the Grigg deal was a huge error, and one that continues to hinder us now.

In terms of what we need to learn from the Maja saga going forward, I think it’s a case of ensuring that any transfer business this coming January is done swiftly and with as little fuss as possible. Let’s have no last-minute panic buys or being held hostage by other clubs. Get it done swiftly, properly, and do not purchase any players who have a chant named after them: we learned that via Grigg.

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