Josh Maja. A prolific energetic talent full of both arrogance and confidence.
The Sunderland youth product was a hero for the Mackems during the first half of the 2018/19 season, firing in 15 goals in just 24 League One outings.
His celebration mimicked Kylian Mbappe and his self-belief was that of a Premier League hotshot playing way above the league he was starring in.
Coincidentally, his form earned a move to the very league that Mbappe has become a star in – Ligue 1 in France.
In rather controversial circumstances, Maja refused a new contract at Sunderland and moved to Bordeaux. The effects of that switch are still being felt at the Stadium of Light.
The £4m they spent on his replacement – Will Grigg – has not been worth it and Phil Parkinson’s men still lack an out and out goal scorer.
Maja, however, has been just one of a number of budding academy prospects to walk through the exit door. Alarmed by the lack of progress being made across the board, a whole host of young players have fled the nest and joined some illustrious Premier League and Championship clubs in the process.
Joel Asoro is the other big name while Luca Stephenson, Sam Greenwood, Luke Hewitson, Morten Spencer, Joe Hugill and Logan Pye have all left.
So how can Sunderland fix this issue? Well, giving Juan Sartori a higher stake in the club could help.
He is currently leading a consortium with the help of Kyril Louis-Dreyfus and they have reportedly had a bid accepted by current owner Stewart Donald.
But why is this a good thing for Sunderland’s academy, I hear you ask? It’s because Sartori’s father-in-law is Russian billionaire and Monaco shareholder, Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Eric Devin of Get French Football told the Sunderland Echo this week:
“Monaco have brought in players, but besides that flurry initially under Rybolovlev of bringing in Falcao, James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho, they’ve always been a team that has developed talent or used academy players.”
Devin continued: “If the idea of having a national scouting network and bringing players to the North East is something that they can take from Monaco’s playbook, then that’s incredibly encouraging.”
Of course, Sunderland could develop a completely different strategy but considering Dreyfus is just 22 years of age, he will need to call on all the experience and help from others that he can get. That starts with his business partner Sartori.
If Sunderland are able to grow their own pool of players from the academy and put a more enhanced focus on the young players coming through, it may stop players from leaving as Maja and Asoro did. Crucially, however, it’s a quick-fire way to making the football club more sustainable.
With spending still over the rate a normal League One club can afford, this would be a fantastic method for Sunderland’s prospective new owners to follow.
Black Cats supporters should be excited by this.