Oh, how the mighty have fallen. Starting 11 player to first team player to U-21 squad player. Jozy Altidore came into the 2013-2014 Premier League season with high hopes. He had signed a new contract with Sunderland and was coming off a 31-goal season with AZ Alkmaar. Altidore was returning to the Premier League to make amends for his lackluster season with Hull City in the 2009-2010 campaign. His disappointing Premier League experience with Hull City was largely written off because of young age and lack of experience, but he still had to appease critics and prove he could play Premier League ball.
And boy, did he show them…
Altidore’s performance this year has been so disappointing that there aren’t words to truly describe how poor of a season he has had. Sunderland brought him to be a hold-up striker and produce like he has for AZ and the United States Men’s National Team. Instead, Altidore has only appeared in 28 of Sunderland’s 34 league games. He has made 19 starts and nine substitute appearances, but his playing time and impact on the field are even less than what those numbers could suggest. Altidore has taken only 27 shots this season, scored only one goal, and notched only one assist. The man, who Sunderland brought in to score goals and provide for even more, has spent this season sitting on the bench staring relegation in the face rather than helping his team’s cause. I say this tongue-in-cheek, but Altidore has been a more effective player for Liverpool than his own team this season. On Sunday, Altidore endured a tackle from Chelsea’s Azpilicueta, and went down in the box. The penalty has been debated to if it was even a tackle or not, but regardless, Altidore earned a penalty for Sunderland. The penalty was converted by Fabio Borini, and won the game for Sunderland. Not only did Altidore help Sunderland steal three points, but in a weird turn of events, this may have won the Premier League title for Liverpool. The Chelsea lose increased Liverpool’s lead to five points with only three games left to play. I did say tongue-in-cheek, but Altidore’s importance for Liverpool vs Sunderland can ultimately be argued to be true.
What’s most frustrating about Altidore’s season is we don’t really know why it’s gone awry. Was it the manager change? Was he brought into a system that wasn’t a good fit for him? Has he been out of form or shown a lack of effort? It could be any of these, or could it be that Altidore simply can’t hang in the Premier League? It’s well known that various leagues around the world have their own unique style of play. For example, Altidore played in the Eredivisie where he played against defenses that didn’t play much defense. This allowed him to score 39 goals in 67 games. That’s not to discredit his attacking abilities, but the defenses he faced in Holland bolstered his stats and didn’t prepare him for the Premier League’s style of play. Every player in the world isn’t going to have the same amount of success in every league. Granted, there are players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Samuel Eto’o, and Zlatan Ibrahimović who have shown they are exceptional no matter the league, but these are world-class players. Not every player can adapt to a league as it may not suit his style. Take for instance Roberto Soldado. He scored 101 goals in 207 La Liga games, but has only managed to score six goals 27 Premier League games for Tottenham. That’s a decent contribution, but that doesn’t live up to his goal scoring reputation or the £26,000,000 fee Tottenham paid to acquire his services. Altidore may be one of those players whose style of play doesn’t translate well to Premier League, or maybe he just needs to be in the right situation. Time will only tell, but one thing’s for sure, Altidore most likely won’t be back in the Premier League for awhile. If Sunderland does the unthinkable and staves off relegation, he’s rumored to be leaving during the summer transfer window.
This is a bit of a humbling experience for me because this isn’t my first take on Altidore’s situation, and how more wrong could I have been. I supported Altidore in every way I possibly could. At the bottom half of the previous piece, you’ll find me acting as Altidore’s defense attorney. I blamed his failures on everything from him still getting used to joining a new team to Gus Poyet failing to utilize his skillset properly. I rejected the notion that Altidore needed a move out of Sunderland and that we needed to be patient, but in hindsight I was a bit naïve. Altidore needs to leave Sunderland during the summer transfer window, and what better way to improve his stock than by having a great showing at the World Cup? Positive performances in this summer’s World Cup will show to teams that Altidore is still Altidore, and that he’s a valuable player. Before we get ahead of ourselves and predict where he’ll be moving to, first thing’s first: Altidore needs to show well during the USMNT’s World Cup training camp to make the squad. With Altidore showing very poorly at Sunderland and “bubble” players such as Terrance Boyd, Chris Wondolowski, and Juan Agudelo showing well for club or country, the pressure is heavy on Altidore.