Speculation over Jozy Altidore’s future at Sunderland reached fever pitch this week following his admission that he’ll need to consider a transfer in January.
Initially linked with a return to his homeland, the 24-year-old has since been connected to fellow Premier League outfit Burnley.
In any case, it seems certain he’ll be on his way during the upcoming winter transfer window and we wonder if now represents the right time to say goodbye to the American.
At 6ft 1in and with a muscular frame, Jozy possesses the required physicality to succeed in the rough-and-tumble of the English game. In theory, he should be capable of bossing opposition defenders with those attributes, along with his considerable turn of pace.
However, he’s displayed a tendency to undertake most of his work outside of the box with his back to goal. On the few occasions he’s found himself in space, he inexplicably elects to wriggle his way beyond multiple defenders before losing possession.
There have been high-points including his performances in two glorious derby victories over Newcastle, plus the significant contribution he made away to Chelsea during that amazing triumph. At the end of the day, though, it’s the goals scored column which matters most of all.
Altidore’s record at New York Red Bulls at the beginning of his career was promising, but the subsequent jaunt around Europe he embarked upon yielded little reward. He eventually found a home at AZ Alkmaar in Holland and plundered 39 Eredivisie goals in two seasons, prompting his £6million switch to Sunderland in 2013.
It must be kept in mind that his prolific periods arrived when featuring in two domestic competitions akin to Championship-level football in England.
In his defence, it remains a fact that Altidore manages to excel for the US national team in spite of ongoing troubles at club level. The question posed by his good form for Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is: what are they doing differently?
Of course, only the head coach and his international team-mates will know if it’s got anything to do with training methods. Additionally, we can’t be sure if the powerful forward feels a greater belief emanating towards him from Klinsmann.
USA vs. Honduras (October 2014):
Tactically speaking, the US usually line-up in an old-fashioned 4-4-2 formation complete with a supporting striker such as Clint Dempsey creating for Altidore. Meanwhile, Klinsmann has utilised 4-2-3-1 sparingly, but that could be set to become more prevalent with the recent retirement of Landon Donovan.
Gus Poyet prefers a 4-1-4-1 style, which can also be interpreted as 4-3-3, with the two supplementary attackers deep-lying and sitting wide, meaning the static Altidore encountered long spells of isolation during his starting appearances last season.
The US employ two controlling midfielders and attempt to create width down the flanks, which is in stark contrast to Sunderland’s slow build-up and usual preference to play through the middle.
There’s no doubting that he’s more effective at national team level, but once again it comes down to the lack of quality within CONCACAF region qualifying campaigns – bar Mexico and Costa Rica – and some of the friendly clashes they arrange.
Only partially does the issue sit with differing philosophies at club and international level, but a truly top-class striker would adapt their skills in terms of movement and positioning - Altidore hasn’t shown any sign of implementing those alterations to his game.
However, the overriding factor is the difficulty found in playing against world-class defenders week-in, week-out. Altidore scored goals for fun in US and Dutch football, but hasn’t repeated that in England, Spain or even Turkey.
He’s still young and could well improve, but he was handed plenty of opportunities in which to prove his worth last term and ultimately failed. He’s a trier, and will certainly work hard for the cause, but that simply isn’t up to scratch on the very highest stage.
An impact substitute role is probably the best he will achieve on Wearside, so it seems the best solution for all concerned if he moves on to pastures new, therefore allowing Sunderland to pursue a superior alternative in the transfer market.