Josh Maja: Warming up for Eagles First Berth

Super Eagles

With visa serving as a hindrance to some Super Eagles players ahead of next month’s Nigeria versus Ukraine international friendly game billed for September 10 at the Dnipro Arena, Ukraine, Eagles Manager, Gernot Rohr has drafted England-born Bordeaux striker, Josh Maja to the fold

According to a report from the official website of the French Ligue 1 side, Bordeaux, striker Josh Maja received a late call-up to join the Nigeria squad ahead of an international friendly against Ukraine, on September 10 at the Dnipro Arena, Ukraine.

Born in London to Nigerian parents, the 20-year-old is eligible to represent the national teams of England and Nigeria.

Maja was invited to train with the Super Eagles in London two years ago before a proposed friendly against Burkina Faso which was later cancelled but club commitments prevented him from joining the squad.

Super Eagles manager Gernot Rohr hinted last week that the Bordeaux starlet might be handed a call-up for the international friendly at the Dnipro Arena.

Maja has impressed in the current season, scoring against Montpellier on matchday two which earned him a spot in the U-21 Team of the Week for Europe’s top five leagues.

Prior to his move to Bordeaux in the January transfer window, the former Sunderland striker represented the youth teams of Crystal Palace and Fulham.

Rohr says he is keen on having England-born striker Maja play for the Super Eagles next month. Maja scored 16 goals in 30 appearances for Sunderland last season before switching to French club Bordeaux in January.

Uncapped by England at any level, Maja has scored twice in 10 appearances in Ligue 1 for Bordeaux.

“I ate with Samuel Kalu and Josh Maja, who is the second Nigerian in Bordeaux and is eligible for Nigeria. I already started talking with him about the national team,” Rohr told Le Point G in France.

“He can easily play in the friendly matches for Nigeria, but he can only do it because he has not played for the U-20’s.”

Rohr was referring to the fact that Nigeria will not have to apply to FIFA for a change of allegiance for Maja, as the youngster has not played for another nation at youth level.

The 20-year-old’s performances in France have caught the eye of Rohr, who played at Bordeaux then coached them when they lost to Bayern Munich in the 1996 UEFA Cup final.

Rohr has already named a 23-man squad for the friendly against Ukraine, but the German is hoping to persuade Maja to play in the game which serves as a build-up to the 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifying matches which starts in November.

“We have a game in Ukraine, and I’ve been informed that it might be too late to get visas for players who do not have a European passport,” Rohr said.

“But he (Maja) does not have this issue because he is English, so he could eventually join us. It is very possible that I pick him to go to Ukraine. For Maja, it would be easier to have him. I have a lot of attackers, but it’s not impossible that I select him.”

Nigeria has also snapped up London-born Joe Aribo, who plays for Scottish giants Rangers, with the midfielder set to make his debut against Ukraine in Dnipro.

His teammate and Liverpool’s loanee Sheyi Ojo also told the BBC that he would love to represent Nigeria if they approach him.

The encounter will serve as a build-up for Nigeria’s 2021 Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Benin while Ukraine will face Lithuania in EURO 2020 qualifier.

The former Sunderland forward says he left Sunderland because they could not agree on terms on a new deal despite scoring 16 goals for the Black Cats during the first half of the season but was sold to Bordeaux during the January transfer window.

Sunderland offered Maja a contract worth seven times his current salary but he opted to reject the deal. With the 20-year-old’s contract set to expire at the end of the season, the Black Cats opted to cash in to eliminate the risk of losing their star striker on a free transfer.

Eyebrows were raised when Maja joined the Ligue 1 side – particularly given there was a lot of British interest in his services.

“My agent told me that they had shown interest since last year, so it went back further. I made a lot of progress at the beginning of the season, and I think that’s when they decided to take action,” Maja told France Football.

“I had some options in England, Germany, Italy too.

“I felt it was the best opportunity for me to have time in the first team and to progress. It was really a higher step up to me compared to League One.

“We just could not agree on a new deal at Sunderland. It’s that simple. Bordeaux arrived and I wanted to play at a higher level. So I decided to leave.

“I have always wanted to play abroad to discover a new language, a culture, a way of life.

“I agree it is brave. There are not many young players, especially English, who will play abroad so it was a rather different choice from what we usually see. Now I have to stay focused and do my best to show myself fully.”

Maja is into his third month in the North West of France and he says he is beginning to settle in to his new surroundings.

“I am pretty well integrated in fact. It was a bit difficult to get used to the new language and lifestyle, but the people at the club did everything to make things easier for me.

“My level of French is improving! I take classes every week, I hope I can speak fluently soon.”

He continued: “Ligue 1 is different. The technical level is higher here, we must pay more attention to details. I’m in no hurry, just as I’m not worried. I am still in the process of adaptation. I work every day, I am constantly trying to progress. When my chance comes, I will know how to seize it.”

Nonetheless, despite being under contract at the Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux until 2023, Maja still harbours ambitions of playing in the Premier League.

“It’s obvious. It’s one of the best leagues in the world, with the best teams. I hope that one day I will be able to play but for now, I am in Bordeaux, I want to succeed here, and we will see later.”