USA and Toronto FC striker Jozy Altidore sat down with FIFA.com to chat about his early start in the professional game, his love for the passion of Turkish football and why, for a self-professed lover, he hates losing so much. On the eve of USA’s title defence in the upcoming 2015 CONCACAF Gold Cup, the muscular Stars and Stripes striker, still just 25, opens up about his career so far and what’s still to come.
FIFA.com: You were only 16 when you began your professional career. Were you mentally ready for that?**
Jozy Altidore**: I actually signed [with New York Red Bulls] when I was 15, but I didn’t start playing until the next year. It was a difficult time for me in many ways, especially in the States where we didn’t have too many professional players coming through at such a young age. It was a challenging time, but I don’t have any regrets about it. I enjoyed it and it helped me become the player I am today.
You must have missed a lot of the fun stuff that your schoolmates were getting up to…
Yeah, that’s true. You miss your high school dances and those types of things, although I did manage to go to my prom. At least I got to do that. You’re not a normal kid in a lot of ways. But for me football was always in my blood. It’s something that was a part of my family and the love for it was always there. We shared a passion together and the sacrifices weren’t that a big a deal to me. I enjoyed every moment of it and looking back I wouldn’t change a thing.
You’ve lived and played in many different cultures – Spain, England, Turkey, the Netherlands, Canada - which was the toughest to adapt to?
Turkey. I was there for six months and I really didn’t know what to expect. It took me some time to settle. The fans are so fanatical and so passionate about their teams and players, and I had to get used to that. I grew to really love it. It was a very good experience for me and one I would recommend to a lot of young players.
Which country was easiest to adapt to?
Holland. I was there at AZ Alkmaar with a sporting director that I had a very good understanding with. I was playing with players that liked the same type of football that I did. That’s a key for any player – to go into an environment where you’re comfortable. It was an easy transition from day one.
You played in the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Canada in 2007. What did that tournament mean to you?
It’s an amazing competition. You play against the stars of the future and, for me, it was a great moment. I remember we played against Uruguay, and in that team were a lot of the players that are now leading world football.
And now you’re back in Canada with Toronto FC. How does it feel to be back in MLS after a long time away?
I’m excited to be back. I haven’t played here in a long time, since I was very young. I feel like I’m at a point in my life where I’m ready for this different type of challenge, and I can still take my game to the next level. It’s a big thing for me to go somewhere where I feel like I’ll still be challenged. That’s where I am now.
You’re very active on Twitter. How did this come around?
I don’t even remember. I’ve been on Twitter for so long, I can’t even remember when I got started. I think it’s a good platform to engage with fans and express your views. I think the fans appreciate that, to see that you’re normal and someone they can talk to.
Do you usually answer tweets from fans?
Sometimes. I’m a big joker. I can address positive things or negative things and I want to make sure the fans know that I have no problem talking to them.
You use the motto ‘family over everything.’ What can you say about that?
It’s just me. It’s a part of my upbringing. I’m so close to my family. They’ve been there for me forever. They’ve been there in the tough times and the great times too, and everything in between. For me, there are no other people that have your back the way family does.
The fans [in Turkey] are so fanatical and so passionate about their teams and players, and I had to get used to that. I grew to really love it.
You recently tweeted ‘I hate losing.’ What else to do you hate?
I don’t like losing. No athlete likes to come off second best. But to be honest, I don’t think there are a lot of things I hate. I love a lot. I’m a lover. I try to not be violent, so I save my hate for losing only.
But everyone loses control sometimes…
I’m human, so I have my bad days like everyone else does. I’m not always in a good mood, but I try to keep things in perspective. There’s not enough time in life to get bogged down with the negatives.
You say you’re a lover. So, what do you love?
I love football. I love my family. I love sports. I love to be around positive people. I don’t waste my time on people who are always looking for the negative, or are always complaining.
What can you say about the current moment in the US national team?
Positive things are happening since the World Cup in Brazil. If you look at the trajectory of US soccer – where we’ve come over the last 12 or 15 years – it’s incredible. We’re constantly growing and getting better. Out football is improving all the time. The best is yet to come and we’ve got exciting times ahead in Russia. We will have another strong team and hopefully we can surprise a few more people.
CONCACAF teams are getting stronger across the board. We saw that in Brazil too…
The region is as tough as it’s ever been. I was so happy to see the rest of the CONCACAF teams do as well as they did in Brazil. Costa Rica went so far, Mexico are always strong and so were we. It shows the world that it’s not so easy for us to qualify, that it’s not so easy for us to go to Costa Rica and other places and get results. It’s extremely competitive here. That’s good because it makes everyone better.
You must imagine that the USA will qualify for Russia 2018?
I would* like* us to qualify for Russia. But nothing is a given. We still have to go to these tough places and work hard and qualify. It would be a huge disappointment if we didn’t qualify.
What does Jurgen Klinsmann bring as coach of the US team?
If you look at the work that Jurgen has done since he’s come in, he’s made us think differently. He’s challenged us in ways we haven’t been challenged before, and I think that’s important. If you want to grow or become better in any part of life, you have to step out of your comfort zone. He’s testing us in a lot of ways. For the most part, the team has responded.
You’ve been around a long time, but you’re still only 25. What are your goals for the future?
I still feel like my best football is yet to come. I understand the game in a way that I didn’t before. I’m excited for the next five or six years. I’m getting better with every game and I want to see where that goes.