Cardiff City’s January recruitment hasn’t quite gone to plan just yet. Top target Nathaniel Clyne has joined Bournemouth on loan, who have also signed Dominic Solanke, another rumoured Cardiff target.
Prime striking target Emiliano Sala apparently doesn’t want to move to South Wales, leaving Neil Warnock with a lot to do.
One name linked to the Bluebirds is Sunderland hotshot Josh Maja. The 20-year-old has had a breakout season in League One, scoring 14 goals so far this year.
To get the lowdown on the Sunderland favourite, we spoke to writer and Sunderland fan Graeme Atkinson. Here’s what he said:
“He’s a top talent – let’s just get that out of the way first and at 20 years of age he is likely to get better. I think he’d spent some time at London clubs in his youth but obviously things didn’t work out for him there. We signed him around 2016 as I recall and he went straight into the U23’s/development squad. He was well thought of at the club early on and there were high hopes for him in respect of breaking into the first team. However, Chris Coleman was the first SAFC manager to show any real interest towards the end of our disastrous Championship season, in 2017. Josh scored the winner against Fulham on his league debut.”
On his style of play…
“At first glance he looks like he should be the classic target man as he’s tall and has some physical presence. However, thats not his game – yet. It’s become a bit of a joke on the terraces, but for those critical of his inability to hold the ball up the usual response is, ‘all he does is score goals eh?’. He’s missed Charlie Wyke I think, out through injury, but now he’s back and playing with Maja, Josh has someone to hold the ball up for him, bringing him into the game and that’s when he comes alive. Get the ball to his feet, in the box and he is simply magic. League One defenders have struggled all season when they’re up against his quick feet in tight situations, hence the number of goals scored.”
On the season so far…
“I’m not sure we initially thought he would play such a major role in our season as he has done to date. Charlie Wyke was the ‘big name’ signing for £1.5mil in the summer and I think it’s fair to say most of us assumed it would be the former Bradford man who would lead the line for the majority of games. Unfortunately he was injured when he signed and was injured again just as soon as he made his first start. Therefore, Maja was deployed in that lone striker role and to his credit has took his chance well.”
On making the step up to the Premier League…
“Without wishing to sound disparaging, I don’t think he’s ready, no. I think most football fans realise there is a gulf between the Premier League and League One but when you see the drop in quality as quickly as we have it is all the more stark. I think he would struggle to get game time for most Premier League sides depending of course on their squads and injuries etc. However, for an example of how the grass is not always greener you only have to take a look at his former teammate Joel Asoro who left Sunderland in the summer and was considered the better prospect by some. Has he even notched up 5 appearances for Swansea in the Championship?”
On the Sunderland stance and reported contract dispute…
“Our new owner, Stewart Donald is a breath of fresh air and his transparency in relation to transfers is a revelation in football never mind Sunderland. The situation as we are led to believe from him is that Josh recently approached the manager, unprompted, informing him that he wished to sign the terms on offer. (7 times his current weekly wage) However, today Sky TV seemingly contacted Donald stating that Maja’s agent had informed them he wouldn’t sign the new contract with us. There was a further update from the owner on social media today which in essence said Maja has now informed the manager Jack Ross, he wants to sign but his agent has told him not to. So, that’s where things have been left, with Donald adding that he is still confident of Maja’s signature despite a deadline being placed on the deal by the club.
I think most sensible supporters accept that a footballer is perfectly entitled to look elsewhere and move on if he considers it will further his career but I think it’s the slightly pantomime of ‘I’ll sign, I won’t sign’ drama that will irk people. If fans do turn against him (and I hope they don’t) you can’t help but feel he and his agent could have handled this better and perhaps weren’t expecting the Sunderland owner to be as forthcoming on details which are usually reserved for behind the scenes.
Fingers crossed this is all just a blip which will get resolved soon and Maja can continue to flourish and grow as a football in the red and white of Sunderland where he is loved.”
You can follow Graeme Atkinson on Twitter.
Scott is a lifelong Cardiff City fan and freelance football writer. Scott hosts the VFTN podcast.