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An Englishman in Bordeaux

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Very few have traveled the path from south London to Manchester, then Sunderland and then the Southwest of France. Then again, few people are Josh Maja.

While Jadon Sancho and Keiran Trippier may garner most of the media attention for English players plying their trade off the British Isle, one young Englishman is poised for a breakout year in Ligue 1. Maja, who joined Bordeaux during the January transfer window in 2019, is finally healthy after a knee injury cut short his first season in France, and he’s ready to make a big impact as part of a young squad.

 [ MORE: Ligue 1 score, schedule ]

The 20-year-old striker has an impressive story, overcoming the odds to not just become a professional, but also to make it to the top division in France. Maja began his career playing for St. Andrews Youth Club, its headquarters just steps away from Westminster Abbey.

He also spent time as a youngster with Crystal Palace and then Fulham, but left the club after three-and-a-half years for personal reasons. He then returned to St. Andrews, all the while going for trials across the country, trying to latch on with a team. While training with Manchester City and featuring in a friendly match against Sunderland, his fortunes suddenly changed. Sunderland liked what it saw, brought him to the northeast of England, and gave him a chance.

After working his way up the ranks from the Under-18s through the Under-23s and reserves, it was then-Sunderland manager David Moyes who gave Maja his first team debut in 2016. After working on his game for another season, Maja had a breakout year with Sunderland down in League One at the start of the 2018-2019 season.

Maja scored in Sunderland’s season opener, a 2-1 win over Charlton, and then went on to score 15 league goals in the first five months of the season, scoring with both feet and his head, and making it look easy at times.

Amazingly, Maja wasn’t even supposed to start that first game of the season. Sunderland had just signed experienced forward Charlie Wyke. But an injury to Wyke in the buildup to the game put Maja in, and he didn’t look back.

“I probably say everything was clicking,” Maja said in an interview with Pro Soccer Talk. “(Wyke) got injured in training so I had to start that game, and then I scored in the first game. From there, my confidence just went up. I think just the momentum and the confidence I had going into games was pushing me on to be successful that season.”

Suddenly, there was interest from clubs in the Championship, Premier League, and abroad. For a player who had trained at Manchester City, Fulham, and Crystal Palace, this could have been a big moment for him to make a move to a bigger club. But Maja said he didn’t see it that way.

“I just felt it was a good time for me to go abroad,” Maja said. “I didn’t feel like I was ready to take the step into the Premier League. I think signing for a PL team wouldn’t have been the right decision for my development.

“Obviously for me developing is playing games and I felt as if going abroad was going to enhance my development and get more game time. I think it was the right decision and I hope this season I can push on.”

By late January, it was done. Maja’s agent, Emeka Obasi helped Maja move from Sunderland to Ligue 1’s Bordeaux on an undisclosed fee, with Maja signing a four-and-a-half year contract. Obasi has been influential in seeing some of England’s top young talents move abroad, including Jadon Sancho’s move to Borussia Dortmund, Ademola Lookman’s move to RB Leipzig and Reiss Nelson’s loan to Hoffenheim last season.

“There was interest before the season, I knew there was a little bit there,” Maja said. “When I was scoring goals as the season was going on, the attention from them grew. My agent was the one, just because he’s got a good relationship with a lot of teams, he basically gave me confidence to listen to clubs abroad, and Bordeaux showed the biggest interest. That’s the main reason I took the opportunity to come here.”

After joining Bordeaux, Maja quickly integrated into the young squad and played in seven matches, starting three and scoring one goal. However, a torn meniscus in his left knee shut down the rest of his season for good. Instead of spending the time injured back home in London, Maja said he remained in Bordeaux to rehab, and he was ready to go at the start of the season for coach Paulo Sousa.

Following a preseason with Bordeaux, in which Maja participated in EA Sports League 1 games in Washington D.C., Maja seems primed for a big season in France. He’s come off the bench in each of the first three league matches of the season, scoring in Bordeaux’s 1-1 draw with Montpellier. Bordeaux’s young team looks to improve from a 14th-place finish last season, in which the club only earned 41 points.

“He’s very young like a lot of players on our team, but he has a lot of experience,” Maja’s Bordeaux teammate Aurelien Tchouameni said. “He played a lot of games in League One in England so he’s a very good player, a very good striker. I think he will help the team this season.”

At just 20, there’s still time for Maja to continue to improve, grow, and potentially return to England as a finished product.

“It’s a possibility,” Maja said about playing in the Premier League in the future. “I am focusing on my work in France with Bordeaux, maybe if the timing is right and the right club comes in, I’d love to take that opportunity. Right now I want to be the best I can be here.”

Caution king Lee Cattermole departs Sunderland after 10 years

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Lee Cattermole, most known for his thumping challenges, physical style of play, and spectacular ability to rack up yellow cards at a stunning rate, has left Sunderland after 10 years with the Black Cats.

The 31-year-old midfielder was a member of the Sunderland starting lineup that fell to Manchester City in the 2014 League Cup final and played every minute of Sunderland’s run through the League One playoffs this past season that ended in a 1-0 loss to Charlton in the final. The club had suffered consecutive relegations in the two previous seasons and will play in League One again next campaign.

“Sunderland is a special club and this decision has not been easy, but I believe it is the right time to find a new challenge,” Cattermole said in the official club release. “The football club, over my 10 years, has had some fantastic managers, staff and players and I have been lucky to be part of that. I would like to say a big thank you to Jack Ross and his staff, and I wish him and the current squad all the best for the coming season. There are some exciting young players at the club and I will be looking forward to seeing them progress.”

Cattermole joined Sunderland from Wigan in the summer of 2009 and proceeded to accumulate 261 appearances for Sunderland, scoring 10 goals, assisting 11, and collecting 87 yellow cards. He sits eighth in career Premier League yellow cards with 88, accumulating that tally in just 272 top-flight appearances, at least 75 less appearances than anyone else above him in the list and over 100 appearances less than all but two of the top 11. By comparison, Gareth Barry earned his record 123 yellow cards in 679 appearances, while Paul Scholes – who sits fifth – earned his 97 yellow cards in 499 appearances. Frank Lampard earned 59 yellow cards in 611 Premier League appearances, while it took Cattermole just 194 appearances to reach that total.

Cattermole has also earned seven red cards in Premier League play, ranking him fourth all-time behind Richard Dunne, Duncan Ferguson, and Patrick Vierra all who picked up eight.

In the 2014/15 season, Cattermole picked up 14 yellow cards, earning every single one for a foul rather than time-wasting, diving, or dissent. However, of the 10 matches he missed that season – mostly for yellow card suspensions – the club won just one. Last season, in 29 League One appearances for Sunderland, he picked up 13 yellow cards, but also scored seven goals to help the club finish fourth and earn its playoff berth. All seven of his goals either tied a game or took the lead.

Charlton wins promotion to Championship in stoppage time

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Charlton Athletic struck a wildly late blow to clinch the final place in the 2019-20 Football League Championship, defeating Sunderland 2-1 in Sunday’s promotion playoff at Wembley Stadium.

A stoppage time free kick in a cagey affair led to a scrum in the box, with Patrick Bauer sliding to strike a shot off a Sunderland defender and into the goal.

[ MORE: Real, Chelsea debate Hazard fee ]

The goal came at the 3:55 mark of four minutes stoppage time, and was the 26-year-old defender’s first goal of the season.

Ben Purrington had leveled the score line for Charlton after Sunderland went ahead via an early own goal. The Addicks were relegated from the Championship after the 2015-16 season, while Sunderland went down last year.

It had to feel extra special to manager Lee Bowyer, who played with Sunderland local rivals Newcastle United from 2003-06.

Sunderland reaches final as Portsmouth fan kicks player (video)

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Sunderland held off Portsmouth to advance to the League One promotion playoff final, and the testy 0-0 second leg really kicked off in the second half.

Black Cats midfielder Luke O’Nien tumbled into the seating area after a tussle with Pompey’s Tom Naylor in the 64th minute.

[ MORE: Jovic to Real Madrid ]

But as O’Nien was kicked by a fan in the front row during his attempt to return to the pitch, setting off a scene with Sunderland’s Lee Cattermole.

The usually ornery and understandably more so Cattermole looked as if he was ready to tangle with the Portsmouth fan before things settled down.

With no goals scored in the second leg, Chris Maguire’s first leg marker at the Stadium of Light sends Sunderland to the precipice of a return to the Championship. The Black Cats will meet with Charlton Athletic or Doncaster Rovers in the final.

Everton looking into video of alleged bar fight involving Pickford

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Everton is investigating a video appearing to show an early morning bar fight involving goalkeeper Jordan Pickford.

Posted on Twitter, the video shows a person who looks the ex-Sunderland keeper in a fracas, reportedly with Newcastle United fans.

[ MORE: Fate on Liverpool’s side? ]

The man alleged to be Pickford, the 25-year-old England keeper, is shown being dragged away from a fight outside a bar in Sunderland.

From Sky News:

In a statement, an Everton spokesman said: “The club has been made aware of an alleged incident involving one of our players and we are looking into the matter.”

Pickford played 90 minutes in Everton’s clean sheet defeat of West Ham United on Saturday, as he has in 34 of the Toffees’ 36 matches this season (He did not draw EFL Cup duty).

He counts 10 clean sheets on his record, but also a rough ending to the first Merseyside Derby of the season and a colossally head-scratching day in a 3-2 come-from-ahead loss to Newcastle United last month.

Pickford has 17 caps and has started 14 of England’s last 15 matches. His former club Sunderland lost the Checkatrade Trophy to Portsmouth on Sunday in penalty kicks.