By Leander Schaerlaeckens, FOXSoccer.com
On July 5, Jozy Altidore sealed his transfer from AZ Alkmaar in the Netherlands to Sunderland of the Barclays Premier League. The Black Cats will be the 23-year-old’s seventh club. His reported transfer fee of $13 million broke his own American record of the $10 million Villarreal paid the New York Red Bulls in 2008. On Friday, FOX Soccer caught up with Altidore to chat about his transfer and the reasoning behind the move:
FOX Soccer: During your last spell in the Premier League with Hull City in the 2009-10 season, you faced a steep learning curve. Do you think you’re better prepared this time around?
Jozy Altidore: “I don’t think it’s about being better prepared. Looking back on it, I think I was the number one striker on that team, not the greatest team in the world, I was always going to be up against it. It wasn’t easy. Now I’ve played in Europe more, I think I’m a little bit of a different type of player now than I was when I was 19 years old.”
FS: You matured rapidly with AZ. How did that help shape your career?
JA: “Just being there and training every single player day was good, you learned every single day. It was a really good two years for me, in every aspect. Just becoming a target man became a bit more natural for me.”
FS: Why did you choose the Premier League?
JA: “The Premier League when you look from top to bottom, the atmosphere, whatever, it’s probably the best league in the world right now. I had the opportunity to come back here and it’s really exciting for me. Sunderland is a big club, there’s 50,000 people every game and a manager [Paolo Di Canio] that is crazy about the game, about the tactics and a good mentality. I thought it was a good fit for me at this point in my career.”
Such a heavy preseason so far. Loving it though, going to make us that much stronger! #hardworkpaysoff— Jozy Altidore (@JozyAltidore)
FS: What other leagues could you have gone to?
JA: “Spain, Italy, Germany, Turkey, Russia. I just felt this was the best place for me right now, to have a position, to play, to train regularly and to play under a manager that has a good mentality and emphasizes hard work and a good training environment.”
FS: Did you talk to Paolo Di Canio much before you signed?
JA: “I’ve been in touch with him for a long time, basically since my season ended. We talked things through. Just how we wanted to play, how they wanted to use me, how I could keep improving. They train a lot, sometimes twice a day, and they’re sharp all the time. And that was important. There were places [I’ve played] where they have a few days off and that’s something that I need at this point in my career. I need to be training and constantly improving.”
Photo: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
FS: Is that something you’ve learned in the Netherlands, your need for constant sharpening of your tools?
JA: “It’s incredibly important. That was one of the decisions for me. I know that when I was at Hull, we trained sometimes twice a week or three times a week and then we were off again. Personally, I need to train as much as possible and be as sharp as possible because I have a lot of things left to learn so that was big in the decision making for me.
FS: What did Di Canio, a former forward himself, identify as areas where you can grow?
JA: “Just to improve on what I’ve done. The trainings here are always tactical sessions, technical sessions, the little things that get overlooked: how to move into the spaces; patterns of play, offensively and defensively; the lead-up to the goal, it’s all been covered already.
FS: What attracted you to working with him?
JA: “The mentality he has. If we get that implemented in the entire team we’re going to be tough to play against. He’s big on discipline and big on mentality and if we can all learn from that we can all benefit.”
FS: A question of a slightly different nature: having been racially abused at a game before in the Netherlands, is it a tad awkward to now be playing for a coach who has been open about his fascist beliefs?
JA: “Not at all. I look at him as a coach and I just look at this as a footballing experience and that hasn’t even crossed my mind.”
FS: Until this summer, you hadn’t scored for the United States in almost two years. You’d nevertheless turned in some good contributions though. Was the scoring drought something you worried about?
JA: “I didn’t pay attention to it. It didn’t really bother me that much. We were always in a transition phase and trying different things. When you look at the team now compared to two years ago, it’s a much more mature team. It’s more fluid, it’s overall better. It was just a matter of waiting and the team improving. And when it improved, I always knew the chances were going to come.”