JOZY ALTIDORE says the Barclays Asia Trophy semi-final was the toughest game of his career after learning that the coach who discovered him had died.
Summer signing Altidore helped Sunderland reach the final of the Barclays Asia Trophy here in Hong Kong yesterday after Paolo Di Canio’s side came from behind to beat Spurs 3-1 and set up a clash with Manchester City in Saturday’s show-piece event.
But the American international has revealed the emotional pain he was suffering in the Hong Kong Stadium after the passing of his boyhood mentor Josef Schulz from cancer.
Schulz, 61, spotted a then eight-year-old Altidore playing in a park in Florida and developed him both at the Boca Raton Soccer Club and then the Schulz Soccer Academy before the striker joined New York Red Bulls.
Altidore only learned of Schulz’s death on Tuesday, yet wanted to prove his commitment to Sunderland by putting emotions aside to play his part.
The £6million frontman told the Echo: “For me, it was always going to be a difficult game. It was probably the hardest game of my life because on Tuesday, I had some bad news.
“The guy who got me into football lost his fight with cancer. Everything I’ve known has come from him.
“So it was a really difficult game, but I was happy that I could play and show the guys that I’m committed.
“That was the biggest thing for me, to show I care and that I’m committed.
“I’m a private guy, I haven’t really talked about it. I didn’t care if anyone knew about it.
“But these guys have been working so hard that I owed it to them to go out on the pitch and give something to them.”
It was a first sight of Altidore in the flesh for Sunderland fans, as the Black Cats made their public pre-season debut after playing two behind-closed-doors games in Italy earlier this month.
The former AZ Alkmaar man could easily have found his name on the scoresheet after going close on three occasions.
But Altidore was encouraged by Sunderland’s overall display, as their superior fitness told in earning a deserved victory over their Premier League peers.
“I had a few chances, but I’m just happy that I can get these games in,” added the 23-year-old.
“As you can see, the players have been working really hard together and obviously it’s a very pivotal time.
“We do look dangerous with some of the movement going forwards.
“It’s early and you can’t make judgements yet, but there’s some encouraging signs without a doubt.
“I think we will get some confidence from that.
“Whenever you beat a team like Spurs, it’s a positive, even if it is a friendly.”