Bucking the trend: Maja has stars in his eyes as he swaps League One for Ligue 1
Josh Maja is different to most young English footballers — at barely 20, he has already been a star on Netflix and has now chosen to join the restricted group of Brits looking to further their careers abroad.
The striker, who featured prominently in the streaming service’s ‘Sunderland ‘Til I Die’ documentary last year, had been linked with a move to the Premier League before signing for Ligue 1 outfit Bordeaux in January on a four-and-a-half-year deal.
In doing so, he bucked the trend, with players moving across the English Channel usually going the other way.
“I just felt I’d get more opportunities abroad, so that was the main reason I left and I thought in France, at Bordeaux, I’d get an opportunity to make a name for myself and go from there,” the Londoner told AFP.
In the meantime, Maja — who is exactly one week younger than Kylian Mbappe — got his first sample of Ligue 1 last weekend as an unused substitute when American-owned Bordeaux lost 1-0 to Paris Saint-Germain.
“If he judged that by coming here he would have more opportunities to play, I think he made the right choice,” said Bordeaux‘s former French international forward Jimmy Briand.
Having played his last game for Sunderland in a 1-1 draw at Scunthorpe United in the English third-tier League One last month, being in Paris was quite a change of surroundings for Maja.
As he spoke at the Parc des Princes, Gianluigi Buffon gave him a passing tap on the shoulder and a smile.
“I’m around probably the biggest names in world football, so that is just a blessing. I’m grateful,” he said.
Maja was with Sunderland in the Premier League two seasons ago, but it was their relegation to the Championship in 2017 that paved the way to the first team for him. He scored on his league debut, but a difficult campaign ended with the Black Cats being relegated again.
Netflix’s insight into the club’s continued descent down through the divisions was gripping, but was it not all a little uncomfortable for Maja?
“I didn’t really take notice of it. Obviously they had a job to do, and I wasn’t really bothered with the cameras around,” he says.
Maja scored 15 goals in the first half of this season in a Sunderland side now fighting to win promotion. However, Bordeaux‘s reported offer of four million euros ($4.56 million) for a player out of contract at the end of the campaign was too good to refuse.
His new life offers plenty of challenges, but his early impressions of life in south-west France are good. Bordeaux, he says, is “a beautiful city, with nice food, nice people, very historic.”
His family will soon join him as he settles and learns a new language.
“I’ve got four and a half years here, so I’ve got all that time to settle in and make a name for myself, develop, improve as a player and a person, and that’s why I’m pleased to be here.”
Jadon Sancho’s success at Borussia Dortmund has shown what young English players can achieve abroad, and Maja has joined a small sprinkling of English players in France, including teenagers Reo Griffiths at Lyon and Jonathan Panzo at Monaco.
He knows that Ligue 1 could serve as a stepping stone for an eventual move to the Premier League. And Maja, raised in Pimlico in central London, admits the prospect of one day playing for his boyhood heroes Arsenal might be too good to refuse.
“Yeah obviously that is a dream, that is the team I support, so it would be a great opportunity to play there.”
Ligue 1 weekend fixtures (GMT)