This new series of articles brought to you by Last Word on Football looks at the youngsters who could have a very big future in the game. In Part One we took a closer look at Manchester City’s future England international Phil Foden. Today we delve into League One’s talented pool of players and look at the highest scoring teenager in the Football League, Josh Maja.
Sunderland’s 19-year-old striker has taken League One by storm this season, leading the scoring charts at times and helping his side battle at the top of the table. His impressive form has got the attention of clubs in both the Championship and Premier League. However, with the youngster due to sign a new contract, those interested teams may have to switch to another target.
Youth Eye: Josh Maja
Josh Maja, or to give him his full name, Joshua Erowoli Orisunmibare Oluwaseun Maja, was born in London and had spells at both Crystal Palace and Fulham during his time in the capital. The youngster also had a spell at Manchester City but was unable to secure a scholarship. Step in Sunderland, who saw something in him to offer him a two-year scholarship on Wearside.
Move Up North
One year after moving to the North East of England in 2015, Maja signed his first professional contract, agreeing on a three-year deal with the Black Cats. The forward impressed staff and fans alike with his performances for Sunderland’s youth sides. With the first-team struggling, it was thought that it would be only a matter of time before Maja was called up to the senior squad.
Debut and First Goal
Maja featured on the bench several times without playing in the league as Sunderland suffered relegation from the Premier League. He did, however, make his debut in the EFL Cup, coming on as a substitute in a victory over QPR. He would go to make the most of his first pre-season. The youngster scored four times during the summer of 2017, including an excellent brace in an away friendly at Bury. His excellent form, albeit in friendlies, had many believe that the young forward could have a bright future.
As Sunderland once again began to struggle, Maja gradually became more of a fixture in the first-team squad. In December 2017, the youngster scored his first professional goal. He scored an excellent winner against Fulham to secure a 1-0 victory. The youngster was off and running but although he featured more regularly, 17 times, he would have to wait to add to his one solitary goal.
Regular Starter, Regular Scorer
Another disastrous season saw Sunderland once again relegated. Another pre-season of changes commenced but Maja, along with several other talented youngsters, remained. The 19-year-old became a regular feature under new manager Jack Ross as the club rebuilt with the hope of an immediate return to the Championship.
Maja has so far featured 20 times this season in all competitions, scoring 13 times. Of those 13 strikes, 12 have come in the league. Amazingly, those 12 goals have come from just 16 shots, averaging a goal every 113 minutes. It’s stats like this that has made him the highest scoring teenager in the country. It is also these stats and his performances in general that has seen interest coming from the Premier League.
Premier League Interest
Due to Maja hitting the net on a regular basis, Premier League clubs are monitoring him closely, as are Championship sides. Tottenham and Manchester City are amongst those reportedly interested. It was rumoured recently that both clubs were willing to pay around £6 million for his services. However, as he is only 19 and appears to have a bright future ahead of him, Sunderland would want as much as possible should the player decide to move on.
With Premier League and Championship sides looking very closely at Maja, Sunderland are keen to agree on a new contract with their young striker. His current deal expires in the summer but the club are confident that a new deal will be agreed soon. However, if no deal can be made, the Black Cats could be tempted to cash in which would alert interested parties.
Cool under pressure – this is Maja’s first season as a regular. He saw new signings come in during the summer as competition for his place. The pressure, therefore, increased for him to perform. For a 19-year-old to respond in the way he has is a testament to his attitude and ability.
Natural finisher – 13 goals so far this season from 20 appearances has proved he can score on a regular basis. His shot on target ratio is also excellent, achieving over 70%. His goals have made him the highest scoring teenager in the country. It has also earned him a young player of the month award too.
Hard working – Maja may not be blessed with the speed or height of some strikers. However, he makes up for this with his work rate. This work rate gets him to good positions in and around the box and will more often than not, which has been proven, will result in a goal.
The near future is difficult to predict at present. If he stays at Sunderland then he is on course to fire them back into the Championship at the first attempt. This, in turn, would make him a huge fan favourite on Wearside. Where he and the ambitious club go from there is anyone’s guess. If no new deal is signed and he departs, would this hinder his progress? It is highly likely should he go to a top Premier League side his game time could be rare.
Whatever he decides, he has the skills, attitude and confidence to have a very successful future. A move to the Premier League now could be tempting but may make his career stutter somewhat. Maja is not from the North East so he doesn’t have the personal attachment to the Black Cats that others may have. However, it is the club that gave him his big break and he may feel he needs to give more back.
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