Scout's Notebook: Jozy Altidore

The latest of our ever-increasing list of signings, Jozy Altidore, is the feature of this week's Scout's Notebook. Who is he? Where does he come from? What's his middle-name? All this and more shall be answered...

With the deal between Sunderland and AZ Alkmaar confirmed, and Jozy Altidore expected on Wearside today for his medical, this seems a good time to bring you a more in-depth look at the American striker, and what he could bring to Sunderland's misfiring forward line.

Josmer Volmy Altidore (known as "Jozy" to his friends, enemies, and anyone who hasn't checked his Wikipedia page), 23, is from New Jersey and is of Haitian-American descent. His first proper club was the New York Red Bulls, and he managed the impressive feat of scoring his first professional goal at the age of just 16 when he grabbed a late winner against Columbus Crew. Over his time in the MLS Altidore made 37 appearances and scored, especially considering his age, a very respectable 15 goals for the Red Bulls. It was also over this time that he first began to appear in the USMNT (United States Men's National Team), and he became the international side's youngest ever scorer at just 18 in a game against Mexico. He's since gone on to represent the USMNT 60 times, scoring 17 goals for his country. After going through somewhat of a drought with the national side, having failed to score since late 2011, Altidore has recently burst back into life for the US, scoring 4 goals since he joined back up with the national team in June.

The American's success for the New York Red Bulls did not go unnoticed in Europe, and in the summer of 2008 the striker transferred to Villarreal for a fee of $10million - the largest ever paid for an MLS player. Unfortunately his time with Villarreal was not a success, and Altidore managed only 1 goal in his 9 appearances for the Spanish side.

Over the next few years he would be loaned to several clubs across Europe; Xerez in the Spanish second division, Bursaspor in Turkey, and of course Hull City. Sadly for him, none of these loan moves really worked out either, with the American scoring just 2 goals in all of his loan spells put together. His time at Hull saw Altidore gain popularity with fans, but his finishing was often wayward and he came away with just 1 goal from his 28 appearances. He also, infamously, managed to get himself sent off in a crucial survival game for Hull against none other than Sunderland when he head-butted Alan Hutton; but who can honestly say they've never wanted to do that?

Whilst his spell with Hull cannot be looked on as any particular success, Altidore himself has said that he does not regret the season he spent with the Humberside club. He also pointed out that his young age, and the difficulties of adapting to the Premier League almost straight from the MLS, have to be taken into account when assessing his performances:

"I think I was 19 or just turned 20 and I had not played in Europe before that. It is a totally different style from the MLS..."

"I have come a long way since then. I am almost a different player and I have learned a lot. So I don't think there is any resemblance to that time if I went back to the league any time soon.

"I have played 100 plus games (since leaving Hull). Playing there at that age and playing in the best league in the world, you can't expect to hit the ground running.

"Some of my performances at Hull were not as bad as people think, some of them were actually pretty good.

"I don't look back at it as a sad experience. It was a great experience because I got to see what the highest level was like."

Altidore's career began to reach the heights he had always been tipped for when he transferred to AK Alkmaar in the Netherlands in 2011. As a sign of things to come, the striker managed to score on his debut against PSV Eindhoven, and would go onto to bag 15 league goals in his first season at the club, and 22 in all competitions. Altidore would also kick off his second season with AZ with a bang, scoring a brace on the opening day of the season as his side came back from losing at half-time to draw 2-2 with reigning champions Ajax. If his first season had shown the American starting to finally come good on his early promise, then the 2012/13 season finally showed what an outstanding player he was capable of being. Over the course of the season Altidore managed to score a sensational 31 goals in all competitions, including three hat-tricks. To put that into context, 31 goals is only 10 fewer than the entire Sunderland squad managed in the league last season. 31 is also the number of years AZ had gone without winning the Dutch Cup until Altidore popped up with the winning goal in the final against PSV Eindhoven. Coincidence? Probably.

The striker credited his turn-around in fortunes since joining AZ Alkmaar to the team's coach, Gertjan Verbeek, and thanked the manager for giving him time to adjust and earn his place in AZ's starting 11:

"I was given a great opportunity, which is kind of rare," he said. "I came here and was basically told, 'You're going to have your chance, and it's yours to take.' I never had that anywhere else. You always have to fight for your position -- you're never going to walk into a team -- but I was given a direct crack at it. I was able to show I was one of the better players and win my position. That was the biggest factor for me the last two years."

Altidore also mentioned a renewed focus on getting the "little things" right; learning how to better time his runs, get in front of goal, and link-up well with his team-mates. Whatever it was that led to his turn around, the results cannot be argued with. His 23 league goals left him standing as 4th top scorer in the Eredivisie. As a recognition for his sterling 2012/13 season, Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf named the American in their team of the season.

So, exactly what kind of striker is Jozy Altidore? Well, firstly it's obvious to anyone that sees him that Altidore is a big strong player; "built like a horse" in the words of Steve Bruce. Standing at 6ft 1in, and with a meaty (note: not flabby *cough*Graham*cough*) physique there is little danger that he will struggle to deal with the famed physicality of the Premier League during his second bite at that oh-so-financially-juicy cherry. He's able to use his strength well as part of his game, showing an impressive ability to bully his way past defenders in an effort to get through on goal. He is also able to score an impressive range of goals. Whilst he is primarily right-footed, he also managed to score 8 goals with his left during his time in the Eredivisie, as well as 11 headers.

In the past Altidore has been perceived as "lazy", with the player garnering criticism for being caught offside often and perhaps offering a lack of defensive work-rate. However, these are hardly glaring faults in his game. The American's runs and movement have come on vastly during his time with AZ, but a striker who is aiming to move intelligently behind the defensive line is always likely to end up being flagged offside a fair few times. Likewise, if Di Canio really does feel that Altidore should work harder in defence, you can't imagine the Italian having too many problems communicating that desire to his new star.

One concern about Altidore could be that his considerable success over the last couple of seasons, both for his club-side and recently for the USMNT, has come whilst playing as the central striker in a 4-3-3. This formation is unlikely to be used at Sunderland where Paolo Di Canio is known to favour a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, and is very likely to want to partner the young American with Steven Fletcher in the Sunderland attack. However, Altidore's link up play is also a part of his game that has been praised, and it seems unlikely that a change in formation should phase him too badly. Indeed, Fletcher's creativity is a part of his game that sometimes does not receive enough notice - with the Scotsman given licence to drop deeper to create play, and Altidore using his power to open up space, the two could prove to be a very good partnership. Certainly the arrival of Altidore should mean that the goal-scoring burden for next season will not rest entirely on Fletcher's shoulders.

So, to summarise:

Strengths

  • Clearly a very talented, and varied, goalscorer
  • Confidence high coming off the back of great spells for club and country
  • Strong and physical, unlikely to struggle adapting to the Premier League
  • Likely to be a good foil for Fletcher
  • For a striker with his recent goal record, the price being suggested (around £6million) is a snip

Weaknesses

  • After his first promising spell at New York Red Bulls, failed to make an impact after big transfer
  • Can be perceived as "lazy" at times.
  • Needed time in the first team to get to his best at AZ

There are, to my mind, some very enviable strengths there, and two of the weaknesses come with big caveats. Firstly, Altidore was incredibly young (just 18) when he first transferred to Europe, so it seems a little harsh to be overly critical of his poor spells at Villarreal and Hull, especially, when he is only just now reaching his prime. The second weakness is perhaps an unfair criticism of Altidore in the first place, and if it does exist is a trait that you can imagine Di Canio managing to iron out. The American did, however, specifically credit his resurgence at AZ Alkmaar as in part down to being given the time and trust to adapt to the new league. Whilst we hope he can hit the ground running in the Premier League, competition for places is likely to be high in the Sunderland side next season, and we just have to hope that Altidore doesn't endure a dip in form and confidence if, for whatever reason, he finds himself on the bench for a period of time.

However, overall Altidore looks like a fantastic signing. His goal ratio last season was truly superb, and he is only just starting to reach the peak of his career. He could well turn out to be the signing of this window for Sunderland.

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