TYSON HILGENBERG - Monday, July 15, 2013
Jozy Altidore completed a transfer to Sunderland of the Premier League and it's a move that will benefit his checkbook, but whether or not it will benefit him as a player is yet to be determined.
It seems the right time for the move. He's coming off the best stint of his career with 26 goals in all competitions last season with AZ Alkmaar of the Dutch Eredivisie, and a recent flurry of impressive goals with the U.S. National Team.
But at closer examination you could question his timing. It's the season before a World Cup, and to take a gamble with playing time is well, a gamble. He will go from an everyday, almost franchise type player at AZ, to potentially a 2nd string or rotating striker. It's a risk and it can be a good thing, if it pays off. I think he'll start at Sunderland and be an every day player, but it's not guaranteed. The fans that pack the Stadium of Light every week are passionate but they are not forgiving and definitely not patient. He won't get the same grace period he had during his first foray into English Soccer. Nor should he. He's a better and more mature player now and as such, more is expected.
Altidore attempted his trade in the English Premier League once already. He had what most consider an unsuccessful loan spell with Hull City in 2009/2010. Granted, he was a couple years younger and not finding the net like he is these days. Still, it's an interesting choice to choose a club in the same league, and a club that similar to Hull City, has difficultly providing their strikers with service and creating offensive chances in general. Sunderland finished 18th in goals scored last season only beating out relegated side QPR and perennial low scorers Stoke City. The year Hull City was relegated, with Altidore in the team, they also finished 18th in goals scored.
The Black Cats of Sunderland have been more of a staple in the English Premier League than Hull City. They have been in the top tier since 2007 and enjoyed multiple Premier League stints before then. When Altidore was on loan at Hull they were relegated in only in their 2nd consecutive season in the EPL, so there seems more stability with this move to Sunderland. With interesting timing though Hull City have gained promotion back into the Premier League for 2013/2014.
Albert Einstein famously said, "Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results."
Clearly Altidore isn't insane for making this repeat move to the Premier League, but it does bear the question as to whether it would benefit him at this juncture. He has had a journeyman existence so far. Some consistency could do him well. He's been with 4 clubs in the last 4 seasons, including loan spells. One more solid year at AZ was what he needed. It would have allowed him to settle in and focus simply on improving and scoring goals, not winning a spot on a new team.
A move to a better side and more competitive league was always in the cards for him, but I would argue to keep his goals coming he needs some familiarity, some routine, some consistency. The worst thing a striker can do is mess up a good run and make a change when he's scoring goals.
However, I think that if he was set on making a move to the Premier League, a mid to lower level club was the right choice. A lot of American soccer fans wanted to see him at a top club, but if he did that then we'd really be talking about him throwing his playing time in the slot machines. Could he get minutes for a Liverpool or a Chelsea or a Tottenham? Maybe, but not with the regularity that I want from my country's number one striker.
From Sunderland's perspective this seems a good piece of business. They could use any attacking presence they can get, and Altidore gives them that with some strength and decent pace. More importantly they get a striker who is scoring goals. The question mark is how he will co-exist with Steven Fletcher. Last season Fletcher had 11 goals in a Sunderland side where he had to make many of those chances happen. They weren't balls right to his feet in front of goal.
If the Universes align, Fletcher and Altidore could be a great pair though, both playing off each other's strengths.
Sunderland also employ the creative and tricky Sessegnon in midfield, and will look to him to provide Altidore with the service he desperately needs to thrive. However there are rumors that the Benin International, Sessegnon, could be on his way out. Altidore could also be fighting for minutes with Danny Graham, a striker with similar size and capabilities. It's a good problem for Sunderland, and some healthy competition that will force the American to raise his level of play if he wants to see action every week.
The other wild card is new Sunderland boss, Italian Paolo Di Canio. He has already brought in some great players, and word is Juventus playmaker Emanuele Giaccherini has all but put ink to paper to join his Italian compatriot. Giaccherini's passing ability and offensive creativity will give Altidore more than sufficient support. But will Di Canio bring in another striker? He's been on an Italian splurge lately, making Sunderland Little Italy, with word of another couple Italian signings in the works. Either way, it seems well set up for Altidore, but not easy. He will have to play well to stay on the field.
This discussion would be different if it wasn't the season ahead of a World Cup. Yes, a player needs to do what's best for him and surely his agents were telling him to strike while the iron is hot, but I question his timing.
Should he have waited until after the 2014 World Cup in Brazil? Assuming he continued his goal scoring form and played well at the World Cup, he could ask for more money and potentially go to a top 4 or 5 club in the Premier League. That is also a risk. A goal scoring drought and a bad performance in Brazil and all the offers could be off the table.
The positive of him making the move now is that he will play against a much higher level of competition, a level more on par with what he'll face in Brazil. It will be a good test to see how he does against the tough and physical defenses of the English Premier League. None of that matters though if he doesn't flourish and get enough playing time.
At the end of the day Altidore had to do what was best for him. There is no right choice. Staying at the top of your game as a striker is difficult, and either choice has it's own risks. Selfishly, I want him in England, as that's the league I watch religiously, as opposed to the Dutch league, where it's difficult to find games televised at all.
I appreciate his desire to play at the highest level, but after a tumultuous couple years bouncing around Europe, I would have liked to see him stay in the one place that's given him confidence, playing time, and goals - All things paramount to a striker's success.