Speaking exclusively to Get French Football News, Bordeaux’s English striker Josh Maja chatted about Paulo Sousa’s impact on his individual game, taking inspiration from Ademola Lookman and Jadon Sancho, his secret personal goals and much more.
How did your move to Bordeaux in January come about?
I think they had been watching me for about 6 months and obviously between then and January, I was having a pretty good season. Just because I was performing well, they liked what they saw and they got in contact with my agent. Things just went from there.
Why Bordeaux? The English media indicated that you had multiple options back in January.
Because Bordeaux are a massive club in France and have a massive city. A lot of the historic players (Zinedine Zidane) of French football came from here. That was one of the reasons. It was just about the way the club was going and is going now. A lot of young players are coming through. I think that it is a good chance for me to try to get regular football, week in, week out, at the top level. In one of Europe’s top 5 leagues. I think that was the main reason for coming here.
When you arrived – what was the most surprising thing culturally?
Settling in was not easy because the language is an important element. That was probably the hardest part. Obviously the club made it easier for me to settle in because they sorted me out with an apartment, travel to and from the training ground, places to eat, just things to settle in. The people were very welcoming, so that has been a blessing to be honest.
Are there some guys in the squad that you immediately hit it off with?
Yeah there were a few who speak in English. Toma Basic, Yassine Benrahou, Aurélien Tchouaméni, Sergi Palencia who was here on loan last season. There were a lot of them actually who spoke English, which made it easy. I have a pretty good relationship with them, which is great.
What are the main differences between League 1 (English 3rd division) & Ligue 1?
I would say that the technical and tactical level of players and the set-up of teams is much much higher here. There are just quality players here and the tactical side is at the very top. Here there is a clear culture, they know what they are doing and they know how to set-up their teams in a well-organised way. That’s the main difference and then of course just the amount of quality players.
What has your manager Paulo Sousa contributed to your individual game since his arrival?
He works a lot on my positioning when we have the ball and when we don’t have the ball. Then, in terms of setting up, how to press – little things like that. Also one-touch finishing and making different types of movements to get in behind or to get the ball short. It has been a real lesson because he has opened my eyes to different ways of seeing things against top quality defenders.
Obviously the quality is higher here so I need to be smart. Obviously I am not the strongest or the tallest or the quickest so, I need to be smart in the way I move round the pitch. Every little piece of advice that he gives I listen because I know it is going to make a difference.
How have you found the training intensity in comparison to your time at Sunderland?
I would say that it is quite similar. But just because the level here is so high, perhaps here it is more intense. I guess it depends on how you define intensity. On the mental side, it is more intense here because of the level of tactical detail, but from a physical side it is similar.
Have you set yourself any personal objectives for the upcoming campaign?
I have set myself targets for this season, but I would rather keep them to myself if that’s okay (laughs). This season I just want to be able to play as many games as possible and get more experience in the league. Just perform well and keep improving as a player.
Was playing abroad something that had always interested you?
I always wanted to move to a different country to play football just to learn different styles, tactics, cultures. It has always been something that I’ve had in my mind, but I didn’t know it was going to be this early in my life and my football career.
Would you say it made you more confident to go abroad at such a young age because of the success that Jadon Sancho and Ademola Lookman have had in doing so recently?
Of course they have been examples because it gives English players confidence. If they can do it, I can do it sort of thing. That’s the way it’s been recently and I would say to other English players that if you are given the right opportunity to play abroad then you should take it.
What has been your toughest on-pitch moment so far in Ligue 1? Has there been a particular opponent, or player you’ve come up against that’s made you think: “This is hard.”
That’s a tough question. I think the hardest game coming into was probably against St Étienne (lost 3-0), just because we didn’t perform well and the result showed that. Coming on, it was really hard to get into the game and to be honest they dominated from start to finish. It was difficult, I think it was a good learning experience. We just need to take it game-by-game now.
They were in fantastic form and as you’ve realised it becomes very difficult in Ligue 1 to impact the game off the bench as an attacking player because of the way matches are so tactically-orientated.
Yeah exactly. It is a tough challenge because every team is well set-up and I think as how we play, we like to keep the ball and try to create opportunities and a lot of teams they sit back and they wait for us to make a mistake and then they counter. Which is fair obviously, like how they play, but I think for us, we need to keep training and doing our thing and it will come.
What have you as a squad been focusing on specifically during pre-season?
We’ve been mainly focusing on our set-up when we don’t have the ball and being hard to beat as a team and trying not to concede as many goals as we did last season. On the ball, mainly working on making the pitch as big as possible, circulating the ball and trying to find the right time to penetrate and create chances.
Obviously you won’t be starting this campaign with Jules Koundé (transferred to Sevilla), a player who had been rated as real captaincy material despite his young age. You will have played against him in training – how far can he go?
I think he is a top, top player. I think a lot of people in France know that, even abroad, that’s how he’s made his move to Sevilla. He’s a very good player and I wish him the best. He is a big loss to the team, but I think we have some great guys here who will replace him. Now we look forward.
Finally, what was it like being in the Sunderland Till I Die Netflix documentary and facing all the social media hype that came with it? Have you watched it back?
Yeah I’ve watched it back! It was a good watch, very interesting, a lot of my friends watched it as well and they seemed to enjoy it just because it was very insightful as fans, they like to see that sort of thing because they don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I think it was good and fun to record. I thought the Netflix team did a great job.
A final word for the Sunderland fans – so close to going up last season…
It was so close, it was heartbreaking watching that final, and then losing. But I think they are working hard in pre-season, I’ve been speaking to a couple of the guys, who I still keep in contact with now. They are working hard to pull off a positive season.