Chris Young column - Timely Jozy Altidore comments for January MLS return

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore
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JOZY ALTIDORE is a dab hand at maximising his box office profile on the American ‘soccer scene’.

In each of the last two summers, Altidore has conducted lengthy stateside media tours as the face of the US national team. With his own publicist in tow, the 24-year-old has rightly looked to capitalise on the genuine growth in enthusiasm for the round ball on the other side of the Atlantic.

It’s working too. My Wish You Were Here summer jollyday report from New York would have included prominent mentions of kids wearing shirts with Altidore’s name emblazoned on the back.

But given that thorough education in the rarely unpredictable questioning of the football hackerati, Altidore’s comments last week over his Sunderland future were particularly notable. There can be no lost in translation mitigation.

He even reiterated them after scoring in the USA’s draw against Honduras on Tuesday night.

Mindful of USA boss Jurgen Klinsmann’s edict that his players need to be featuring regularly for their clubs, Altidore (left)confessed that he may have to reconsider life at the Stadium of Light.

“Jurgen makes his message very clear, nobody is different, so if it doesn’t turn around then in January I’ll be looking to start elsewhere and make sure that I’m in his plans,” said Altidore.

It was pretty unequivocal stuff from Altidore.

It was certainly a departure from Altidore’s stance during the bulk of his tough spell on Wearside, where he has continually stressed his determination to prove himself in the Premier League, rather than make a hasty exit.

Speaking to Altidore just last month, it was immediately striking how much more content he seemed than last season, and how he seemed to understand his part in Gus Poyet’s plans.

Since March, Poyet has predominantly seen Altidore as an impact substitute – someone whose pace and power can unsettle fatigued defenders.

It’s a sensible approach from the Sunderland boss.

Other than on a handful of occasions – most prominently in February’s Tyne-Wear derby – Altidore’s control, hold-up play and movement has fallen short in providing Sunderland with a sufficient attacking foundation in the defining early stages against Premier League opposition.

But that bit-part role consisting of substitute appearances and the odd cup outing, may not be sufficient for Altidore.

Don’t forget that despite all of the ex-AZ Alkmaar man’s troubles last season, he still started 19 Premier League games.

The timing of Altidore’s comments is particularly significant too.

Should Altidore indeed look to leave the Stadium of Light in January, then it would perfectly position him to return to his homeland in time for the start of the new MLS season in March.

The MLS provides by far the most feasible exit strategy.

No Premier League side would come close to matching the £7million which Sunderland invested in Altidore 15 months ago. Those weekend reports linking him with Burnley were fanciful.

And even if any Eredivisie outfit were looking to take Altidore back to Holland - where he split opinion among Dutch football fans - no club would have the means to recompense Sunderland AND match his Black Cats wages.

But a handful of MLS clubs may have a couple of bucks spare, particularly for a signing such as former New York Red Bulls man Altidore whose stock in the States is huge and would be big business from a marketing stance alone.

New York City FC – the franchise club for Manchester City – have already demonstrated their budget by signing Frank Lampard and David Villa, while Colombus Crew were linked with Altidore during the summer.

If any came close to matching Sunderland’s investment in Altidore, then the club would inevitably be tempted to cash-in.

While Altidore has become a popular figure among supporters, with his heart undoubtedly in the right place, his goal tally has to be where he is judged.

There is perhaps an argument that he has not had a fair crack of the whip. He was turning out for a desperately struggling side last season, while he has not been given a run of games this time around.

But the Premier League is a brutal arena. If a player doesn’t immediately make their mark, then they are invariably shipped out on the first boat docking at port.

With Financial Fair Play a clear mantra among Sunderland’s hierarchy, Altidore won’t be allowed to leave on the cheap.

Yet if they can get that money back and re-invest it...

Despite Fabio Borini continuing to plead this week that he is happy at Liverpool, Poyet will still sniff an opportunity to resurrect the tiresome saga for the Italian in the January window.

To do that though, Poyet will need some hefty funds behind him, with Liverpool reluctant to allow Borini to leave on loan again.

It will not be lost that a hefty down-payment could be financed by cutting ties with Altidore.