Q&A with U.S. striker Jozy Altidore
The coaching in England emphasizes work rate and playing with energy
Jozy Altidore is still unsure if he'll be in Spain or back in England for next season
The locker room culture and banter in England differs from that in MLS
At just 20, striker Jozy Altidore is already a regular with the U.S. national team's starting lineup and is ready to make his mark at the World Cup in South Africa. Altidore recently dropped by the Sports Illustrated offices where we talked about his season with Hull in the English Premiership and looked ahead to the World Cup. Here is our conversation (edited for clarity):
SI.com: What do you think were the biggest differences between the coaching you received at Hull as compared to that in La Liga [with Villarreal]?
Altidore: The first thing that sticks out to me is working -- the work ethic part is a lot different in England compared to Spain. Not that I didn't work hard in Spain, but the emphasis in England is more working hard and playing with energy from minute one. I still think England is in a league of its own and [also somewhere like] London is a really special place to live.
SI.com: Do you feel that coaches at Villarreal envisioned you as a different type of forward as opposed to the role they saw you in at Hull?
Altidore: No, I thought early on at Villarreal it was difficult for me, adjusting to the language and the way of life. I was so young, and it was tough at first to take it all in. But now I think it's different, I'm more mature on and off the field. I think if I were to do that now, I'd be comfortable with it. It's all about learning your trade and applying what you learn. And I think for me, I'm finally ready to take on that challenge of being in a different culture and being in a different way of life.
SI.com: Which opposition players in the Premiership really impressed you?
Altidore: I would say [Heurelho] Gomes, the keeper for Tottenham, was very, very good. Then you have the obvious: [Wayne] Rooney was incredible. I really enjoyed playing against him and watching what he does. Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard -- those guys were very, very good; they're quality pros.
SI.com: How about defenders? Who gave you the most trouble?
Altidore: [Nemanja] Vidic was very tough to play against, a very good player to go against. Just overall [skill], and he read the game very well. Sol Campbell too -- even though he's a bit older, he was no easy customer. Whoever you play in England you're going to find that [type of quality].
SI.com: Any trash-talking going on in-game when you come up against these guys?
Altidore: Not really. They like to play through the talking. If they have something to say, they'll say it in the next tackle, basically. They don't go out of their way to do that sort of stuff. They keep it simple.
SI.com: What about the England players? Did any of them mention the upcoming matchup with the U.S. in June?
Altidore: If they did, I didn't really pay attention to it. There was definitely some chatter going, but I try to keep out of that, especially when I was at Hull. [That type of thing] is really not for me.
SI.com: What were you focused on improving on at Hull?
Altidore: The biggest thing for me was playing time. After sizing it up with my family and my reps, we looked for a place where I was going to play. The football side of it [at Hull] obviously wasn't the greatest -- it was a team that didn't rely too much on playing football. But at the same time, I was looking for a place where I could work hard, get more introduced into professional football and I think I got that by going to Hull, so overall it was a plus.
SI.com: Do you think the style of play in England suits you as compared to Spain?
Altidore: I actually really enjoyed England. It's a great place to play. It's tough not to call it the best league in the world at this point -- it has everything technically, tactically, physically, [with] emotion and excitement. If any player has the desire to be the best and perform on the biggest stage, then England's a place that you have to go. For me, if I had a chance to go back, if the situation was right, I'd definitely explore that. But I'm also looking forward as well to going back to Villarreal, applying my trade there -- they gave me this opportunity to begin with. Looking at this upcoming season, if I did have a chance to be with the Villarreal first team, I'd take it with both hands.
SI.com: What do you know about Giuseppe Rossi's situation at Villarreal? Italian media is reporting that he wants to head back to Italy.
Altidore: I was real close with Giuseppe. I was lucky he was at Villarreal when I got there, if he hadn't been there it would have been tough for me in Spain. He's an American kid, he spoke English, we're the same type of person. He really helped me get through a lot of rough spots there. In terms of what he's doing, I think he's a great player, he's been in Spain now for three years. If he moved to Italy, it'd suit him well, that's where his family background is.