After a stunning youth World Cup about a decade ago, Jozy Altidore has failed to meet your lofty expectations. Some are delusional. Some are mad. Many are sad. I, however, am philosophical as always. How did Jozy get to this point: a striker who seems to get more injuries than goals?
The answer(s) may bother you.
You have to apportion some of the blame to the individual. Could Jozy have worked a bit harder and/or been a bit more professional? Yes. Of course. But here’s the response: lots of players who are less professional and less gifted than Jozy make it and make it big. So here are some more potent, and cutting, observations.
Jozy’s nationality and race were and are big factors in how he’s been misused and abused. When Americans go abroad to play soccer, we are seen as hard-running Golden Retrievers that will run and play defense and physically battle for 90 minutes. Jozy is black and big, so that only makes this stereotype worse: he has to play the part of the big, powerful target forward to whom you whip in crosses. He is a black Athletic specimen to be used and ran into the ground. Forget the long-term.
Here’s the problem in a soccer sense: Jozy’s technical ability and creativity were his best asset. As a youth, he used to play give-and-gos all over the box and constantly try to dribble at and turn a defender. When he signed for Villareal, I was elated. La Liga is a technical league and seemed a good fit. But, oh no, Jozy spent most of his time for bottomfeeders in the English Premier League, aka hallowed ground, and only got route one service. Yes, Jozy’s first-touch leaves something to be desired, but when Adam Johnson is your creative assistant, you are screwed.
The other bigger question is one of development: everybody is just obsessed with 10,000 hours and players “getting lots of games.” But there’s this weird thing called knees and ankles. Every human body has so much tire tread, and, the more you play, the less tread you are left with. Jozy spent a lot of time in Europe on loans to smaller clubs where he was expected to – and got – start after start. Instead of building him up, this situation arguably wore him down.
It’s easy to look at Jozy or another big black athlete like Shaq and think: this guy is a tank and we can ride him all day, any day, day after day. There’s one problem: my grandpa drove a tank in Korea, and tanks require a ton of maintenance and extended periods of non-use. When you are big and supporting more weight, a small ankle knock can have a bigger impact. As a youth, Jozy needed less games perhaps and some long-term planning and caring.
My favorite example of the big guy dilemma is Karim Benzema at Madrid. Karim is long-legged like Jozy and has frequent injury troubles. However, unlike Jozy, Karim did not go out on loan at Madrid: he got substitute minutes, then games, then he became a starter when fit. Probably by accident, Madrid played the long-game in Karim’s development and it’s paid off pretty well.
Thus, my friends, the next time you look at Jozy and shake your head, think of how he got to where he is. I love to see him play with confidence, but less games would do him some good – even when fit.
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