42 games. 1 goal. 10 million pounds.
These numbers help to highlight just how shocking Jozy Altidore’s stint was at Sunderland. Altidore had been a goal machine in the Netherlands before his move to Sunderland, and has been in prolific form since his return to the MLS. The recent Netflix documentary “Sunderland ‘till I die” showed just what a basket case of a club it was under Ellis Short. Jozy Altidore arrived in the middle of the madness. Was he really as bad as the “Dozy Altidore” label or were Sunderland in such a bad shape, the American never had a chance? It’s time to revisit his 18-month spell to find out who’s responsible for his stunning failure.
Altidore’s first professional contract was with the New York Red Bulls. At the tender age of 16, Altidore became the youngest ever scorer in a MLS play-off game. At the end of the 2008 season, Villareal were happy to spend $10M on an 18-year old with just 37 games and 15 goals to his name. Altidore’s career progress would considerably slow in Spain. Villareal loaned the striker out three times, including a spell at Hull. Sunderland should perhaps have taken a note of his 1 goal in 28 appearances for the Tigers during that spell in the Premier League.
In the end, Altidore would only make 9 appearances in total for Villareal, scoring just once. The Spanish side took a massive financial hit on their investment when they allowed sold the striker to AZ Alkmaar for a mere $1.5M. The two years spent in the Eredivise would give Altidore the platform for his eventual move to Sunderland. The American couldn’t stop scoring for AZ. His second season record of 25 league goals and 8 cup goals was the pinnacle of his time there. Altidore even scored the winning goal in the cup final for good measure giving AZ their first success in over 30 years.
We all now know that for every Robin Van Persie or Ruud Van Nistelrooy arriving from the Eredivisie, there is a Vincent Janssen (coincidentally also starred for AZ Alkmaar) or Mateja Kezman. Jozy Altidore was so good for AZ that he made the Eredivisie Team of the Year. 51 goals in 93 games was a decent return. The only worrying sign is when you compare that to the 31 goals in 49 games for Janseen during his one and only season with AZ.
Di Canio’s “Animal”
Paulo Di Canio was the manager that brought Altidore to the Stadium of Light. The eccentric Italian coach called Altidore an “animal” that “would destroy Premier League defences”. In general, Di Canio’s comments when Sunderland signed Altidore were erratic to say the least:
“He has come back and he is the kind of quality I need. He is the size I need. He jumps hard and he is an animal. He attacks every space and his first touch is good. He is fantastic finisher and that is a good mixture. We will play good football to help him to score and he is going to have a big part to play this year. All the signals that we have seen are positive. He is a modern footballer, like you saw for the USA. He can make lovely movements. I don’t know a number, but it won’t be too hard to predict. Maybe 15 or 17”
In the end, Altidore would score 1 Premier League goal in total. Di Canio was actually sacked after just 5 games of the season leaving 14 new summer signings behind him. Gus Poyet came in to the role and Sunderland adopted a relatively cautious approach. When on international duty a couple of months in to Poyet’s tenure, Altidore complained that the style of play at Sunderland meant that not many chances were created for him. In fairness, Poyet was actually relatively supportive of Altidore’s claim:
“It’s not like you put him on the pitch and say, ‘Go on Jozy – score 20 this season.’ We haven’t created enough chances for him to score goals yet”
The manager’s patience would continue to be tested as Altidore missed a number of sitters throughout the season. While his form at a national level continued to be a welcome relief, Altidore finished the season with just 1 goal in 31 appearances. 0 goals in 11 games the following season led to a return to the MLS, with Jermaine Dafoe coming the other way.
Altidore back to his best
Since returning to the MLS, Altidore has been a pivotal member of Toronto’s success during the past four seasons. This included being named the MLS All-Star MVP as his side won the MLS Cup in 2017. This was after his side finished runners up in 2016. Altidore has scored 60 goals in 114 games. It’s well documented that the MLS is behind the top European leagues but the numbers are still impressive. Newcastle just spend a record transfer fee on a MLS striker so perhaps the league isn’t that poor.
Altidore’s brilliant form prior and post his stint in the North East leads to question whether the American was really that shocking or whether he was simply another unwilling victim of a basket case club. Who do you think was to blame for Altidore’s failure with Sunderland?