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.
SI.com: Obviously Red Bulls fans still remember you from your days in New York and still follow your exploits overseas. Would you say that there are marked differences in the training regime at MLS compared to England?
Altidore: I don't think the training was bad in MLS. I mean .... yeah, at times you're like, What's going on? But on good days, the MLS training wasn't bad at all. But obviously in England, you have some players who have played at the highest level, so they make it a little easier and a little harder for you. But all in all, in terms of how MLS is coming along, I think it's coming along good.
SI.com: What about the difference in team culture?
Altidore: Yeah, it's a little different. Guys in the Hull locker room I know like Jimmy [Bullard] were very ... different [laughs].
SI.com: Is that a polite way of saying he tends to run around naked and stuff like that?
Altidore: Yeah, he definitely gives you a show now and then [laughs]. I haven't experienced that anywhere else and I don't think I will again in my lifetime. But it's definitely different in England -- guys definitely feel more comfortable saying things in the locker room. They feel like that's their place to vent, so you definitely hear a guy's feelings throughout the season. I think it's a little different in the States. We're a little bit more naive in terms of saying things out loud or [too] afraid to hurt a guy's feelings. But in England, it's a business and people want to win so [there's] definitely no hard feelings.
SI.com: Newcomer to the team, young American kid. Sounds like the perfect subject matter for some initiation rites. Did they play any practical jokes on you?
Altidore: Not really. It was more just to see if I could hang enough in the training. When I did that, and I showed I could contribute, I think the respect factor came. [It was] something hard I had to go through, but at the same time it was a good experience and made me better for it
SI.com: Did you have any mentors at Hull? Did any of the veterans take you down to the local chippie?
Altidore: Fish and chips, those were definitely not bad. I was lucky, I had guys like Giovanni who were real close to me. George Boateng was a great guy, a great mentor, for sure. To be honest with you, I got along with everybody. I don't think I've had any fallouts with anybody. I'd say my closest friend was Giovanni. The French guys, [Steven] Mouyokolo, Khamel Ghilas -- the foreigners, we got along well. But I got also got along with everybody else. We were all comfortable.
SI.com: Can you walk us through your typical daily schedule?
Altidore: I wake up about 8:30 a.m. and then set off for Hull. I lived in Leeds so it was about a 30-to-40-minute drive. Once I get there, I get a quick bite to eat. And then I'm on the training field at 10:30 -- with [Ian] Dowie we went pretty long, usually until about 1 p.m. Once that's finished, I do some weights and then head home.
SI.com: And at home?
Altidore: Not doing much, just hanging out, resting. Mostly doing some FIFA, damaging some people online, doing what I got to do [laughs].
SI.com: Have you played Landon Donovan at FIFA online? By all accounts, he's supposed to be very good at it.
Altidore: Landon? No, Landon's not up to par yet. He's definitely not up to par [laughs]. I actually haven't played anyone where I feel like, Hey, that person is as good as me [laughs].
SI.com: That sounds like a challenge to all the FIFA online players out there ... want to throw out a username?
Altidore: Yeah, I will. Actually, I'm getting a new username that will fit more the type of player I am so they're going to like that, trust me [laughs].
SI.com: How much contact do you have with your Villarreal teammates, and what did they say to you after last summer when you scored against Spain?
Altidore: Yeah, actually going back there was pretty fun after we beat Spain. I actually had a lot of enemies after that [laughs], so it was kinda rough, but beyond that, it was cool. They're really great guys in Spain. They've been together a long time, so once you're part of that family you fit right into it.
SI.com: Everyone knows about the red card you received against Sunderland and the fact that you apologized after the game. How did the Hull fans treat you after that incident?
Altidore: A lot of them understood, but there were some mixed feelings. Of course, some people were angry. At the end of the day, it wasn't my finest moment, and I definitely acknowledge that. It's one of those things that you have to learn from. The way I look at it, I'm just going to remember how that situation made me feel and learn to control it next time. I think I do pretty well in terms of keeping my composure and for me it was just the last straw of a very frustrating year for Hull. But at the same time, I just can't let that happen.
SI.com: Let's talk World Cup briefly. You played with Algeria's Khamel Ghilas, DaMarcus Beasley plays with Madjid Bougherra at Rangers. Have the two of you talked strategy at all about facing Algeria?
Altidore: Not yet, but I'm sure we will closer to the game and [once] we see the team sheet for Algeria. Bob [Bradley] does a good job of communicating with the players and we do a good job communicating back to him, so I think it'll be a plus. Algeria's a team that is mostly unknown to most casual soccer fans or even most diehard soccer fans. It's not a team that you're going to turn on and watch every day, so I think it's going to be a challenge and they have some good players on their team, but I have faith in our coaching staff.
SI.com: U.S. fans want to know where you'll be playing next season. What's next for you after the World Cup?
Altidore: I'm just focused on making the roster for the national team and playing in the World Cup. There are actually some good options on the table for me and my family to look at. However, my main focus isn't what I'm doing next season, it's in the now and what's happening with the national team -- so I want to try to make the team and then maybe along the way I'll make a decision.
SI.com: You're actually in New York to also promote the new Adidas boot, the F50. Are you going to be wearing those in the tournament?
Altidore: I've [been trying out] the F50 now for the past two weeks, and checked out some prototypes. It's one of the best boots I've ever tried. I'm really excited, it's incredibly lightweight -- the lightest boot ever. For a lot of guys, we dream about that -- where you have the ball at your feet and you do what you want your feet to do. I think it's been tough to find a boot like that. You can put the ball where you want to put it, and as a striker that's important.
Jen Chang is the soccer editor for SI.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow him on Twitter at Jenchang88.
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