USA's Jozy Altidore certainly cuts an imposing figure out on the pitch, thanks to a muscular 1.90m frame ideally suited to the target-man position. Indeed, it is in this role that he has proved vital to the success of the Stars and Stripes, with coach Bob Bradley expecting a great deal from the 20-year-old at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™.
Off the field, however, Altidore has recently had much to endure, including personal problems, a serious car accident involving close friend and fellow USA forward Charlie Davies, as well as the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, where his parents hail from. Touching on all those issues and more, Altidore sat down for an exclusive interview with FIFA.com.
FIFA.com: Jozy, tell us how you felt when you saw USA had been drawn against England, Algeria and Slovenia at South Africa 2010?
Jozy Altidore: I’m excited about the group we’ve been drawn in. I think that all of us in the America agree that we’re in a group which will allow us to play our football. We’ll be up against a world force in England and two quick teams in Slovenia and Algeria, and I think these opponents really suit our style of play.
Is there any anxiety about taking on a big name like England in your first group game?
We're never scared, on the contrary, we’re really looking forward to that match. I think that we’re capable of beating anybody on our day and there’s no team in the world that can beat us easily. We’re up to the challenge and the English will realise that when we meet them. It'll be a tough match; no team can walk over us.
What lessons did USA learn from reaching the final of last year’s FIFA Confederations Cup?
That anything can happen. Nobody expected us to go so far and play such a high standard of football. But it also taught us that we can't get complacent. We were beating Brazil 2-0 (in the final), putting in an excellent performance and we felt that we had the win in the bag. Of course, you can’t do that against a team of Brazil’s calibre and we all know what the final score was [A Seleção emerged 3-2 winners]. But it was a good lesson to learn.
Your career seems to be progressing well, but how are things on a personal level?
I’ve been through a lot over the last two or three years that people don’t know about. Then came the car accident involving my friend Charlie. And just when I was trying to put that behind me, suddenly the earthquake struck in Haiti. You have to be strong and not let the sadness weigh you down. I’m still trying to get over that bad period, but I’ve got help from my family, who’ve been fantastic.
Could you expand a little on the problems you have been through in previous years?
I had family issues which stopped me from focusing completely on football and affected my performances. Things are better now and I’ve vowed to myself that this will be the year I return to the very top, taking full advantage of the World Cup. I'll be getting back to doing what I love.
Can you tell us more about Charlie Davies’s situation?
Charlie is like a brother to me. But I’m happy to see how well he’s recovered. I think he’s surprised a lot of people, not just me, and I really confident that he’s going to suprise a lot of people Hopefully he can come to the World Cup and do what we know he can do.
Given that your family hails from Haiti, how affected were you by the earthquake that struck in January?
I’ve got family there and it’s impossible to imagine how it feels to go three or four days without being able to speak to or locate them. So many lives were lost, I lost so many friends. That’s why I got involved in the aid effort, to try and make people aware of the terrible state the Haitian people were in and just how much their support was needed.
Turning back to your professional career, why do you think you have enjoyed success on the international scene while struggling to establish yourself at club level?
If you look at my US teammates and what they've accomplished you can see just how much each one has achieved during their careers. Things are different at Hull (City), a team which is battling against relegation. That makes every goalscoring opportunity, every point and every win valuable. As far as I’m concerned.
Do you regret not staying at Villarreal?
I knew that it (moving to England) was not going to be easy. Hull is a very different place to Villarreal and New York, where I’d played previously. In terms of the style of play, when I went I was perfectly aware that I was joining a team where I wasn’t going to score lots of goals. It was a challenge and a decision that I’d really thought through. I don’t regret it at all.
As a striker, do you follow your instinct or do you try and visualise how a game might pan out beforehand?
I always try to visualise what might happen. I think that’s very important to make sure you’re ready when things happen for real. I try to see moves in my head so I’m ready when I need to be.
You were the youngest player to score for the senior USA side and the first American to score in La Liga. What next, becoming the first USA player to score in the FIFA World Cup Final?
That would be unbelievable and it’s very possible. We already proved what we’re capable of at the Confederations Cup, so why not at the World Cup? On paper we look like a very good team.