West Bromwich Albion recently completed the free transfer of former Bordeaux striker Josh Maja. The 24-year-old scored 16 goals and 6 assists in Ligue 2 last season and has signed for West Brom on a three-year deal.
Maja is 5”9 and his mesomorph body type should allow him to easily gain or lose muscle mass. He’s a capable jumper and can beat tall defenders in the air if running at speed. He’s suffered torn knee ligaments, a calf strain and a back injury in his four-year spell in France but it’d be surprising if this were to become a problem at West Brom as they’re all seemingly unrelated.
He accelerates quickly but isn’t fast over long distances; he lacks the strength to pin physical defenders consistently. He’s agile enough to turn quickly on the ball and bait defenders with body feints deep in the attacking half, and he’s energetic and capable of pressing for a full 90.
Mental and Tactical Aspects
When speaking in an interview with West Brom, he stated that his “dream is to play in the Premier League,” which he has already done once with Fulham. Potential promotion to England’s top flight will keep him motivated at West Brom. He carries out tactical instructions well and has the discipline to do what is required of him in different matches and roles. For example, in Bordeauxs’ 2-1 loss to Le Havre last season he stayed central and made runs to push the opposition’s defensive line back, despite preferring to go deep and receive passes into feet, because he was played as a lone centre-forward.
His hard-working attitude is epitomised by his desire to help defensively. Last season he dropped into midfield and won the ball back with tackles and interceptions whilst his awareness allowed him to fulfill the roles of centre-forward, attacking midfield and left wing out of possession. His versatility isn’t exclusive to off-the-ball work and Bordeaux manager, David Guion’s fluid attacking system saw Maja take up positions all across the final third.
He’s an intelligent presser and often changes his body orientation when approaching a player to make their decision harder. He can look unsure if he is supposed to jump when defending set pieces which could lead to confusion in the penalty area. As a child, he’d play cage football in South London, where he developed the ability to think quickly in tight spaces. This helps him find passes under pressure with clever flicks and backheels.
It’s also useful inside the penalty area as it helps him to find solutions when presented with difficult opportunities. As well as this, he has the confidence to dribble past players in his own half. In the penalty area, the fact that he is always moving makes him difficult to mark. He uses quick in-to-out runs to pull away from his marker when looking to receive a cross to the back post and is smart enough to curve his run to stay onside. His movement creates separation from the defender and puts him in good goal-scoring positions, usually near the six-yard box.
His tendency to wait for space instead of moving into pockets makes his movement in deeper areas less impressive and is one of the reasons he’ll struggle if asked to play as an attacking midfielder in England. Another indicator he might struggle in England is his lack of desire to reach crosses. He rarely attacks the ball if it appears out of reach or gambles on a defender missing a cross. He lacks the burning passion for scoring goals which most centre-forwards thrive off.
The one-time Nigeria international is fairly selfless on the ball and doesn’t feel the pressure of being a goalscorer if he’s playing well. He picks good passes in the final third and lays the ball of teammates in better shooting positions frequently. His first instinct when receiving the ball deep is to get it forward and he has the confidence to try to do this with passes and carries.
He has the vision to spot over-the-top through balls but often lacks the ability to pull them off. He tries to do things outside of his skillset which sees him lose the ball needlessly. It shows he has confidence but it’d be better if he developed these skills in training.
Maja receives and passes well on both feet but struggles to use his weaker left foot on bouncing balls. When the ball is in the air he can volley passes with all parts of his right boot. His ability to pass around the corner with the outside of his right foot is useful in deeper areas.
He’s a good dribbler in central areas and can beat defenders with fluid changes of direction. He’s less comfortable out wide as he likes to have passing options on either side of him. He keeps the ball close to his feet when dribbling which stops him moving quickly with the ball.
The 24-year-old striker can shift the ball to his right foot quickly which is useful when generating shots. His ball striking is inconsistent but his movement and ability to get shots off in tough situations means he’s still a goal threat. He can play through balls into the penalty area due to his vision and excellent ground passing but he lacks the technique to play passes in the air.
His crossing is also poor and he struggles to get sufficient pace and height on the ball. He’s capable of winning the ball with slide and standing tackles which makes him a good tackler in comparison with other centre forwards. He struggles to control the ball with a defender on his back which leads to him playing lots of passes first-time.
Maja’s heading is accurate enough to help him with his back-to-goal but lacks the power for it to make him more threatening in the penalty area. He controls the ball with his chest well and he’s secure in possession once it’s at his feet. He rarely loses the ball in his own half despite his forward-thinking tendencies. He can draw fouls by putting his body between defenders and the ball.
West Brom’s Perspective
Maja joins as West Brom’s first-choice centre-forward and will offer a different dimension to their attack. Last season they had Daryl Dike and Brandon Thomas-Asante who both excel at running in behind and making themselves a nuisance. Maja has the technical quality to play deeper and create chances for his teammates.
The only concern I have is that his lack of desire to attack the ball and his inconsistent ball striking might see him struggle to be the pure goalscorer that West Brom fans have wanted for a few years now. He’s still young though, so time and a three-year contract should see West Brom get his best years. It’s a good move for both parties.
By: Ricky Lee Griffiths / @rickyleegriffi2
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Adam Fradgley / West Brom