After months of speculation about his future, Red Bulls star Jozy Altidore has finally clinched a big money move to a top European league, signing for Spanish side Villarreal.
By James Rogers
Major League Soccer reached an agreement in principle to sell Altidore to Villarreal earlier this week in a deal that is likely to smash the transfer record for an American player.
Although the value of the transfer was not disclosed, media reports say that the move could be worth up to $10 million, almost double the $5.7 million Sunderland paid for Claudio Reyna in 2001.
Altidore, who has scored three MLS goals this season, will now line up alongside former Arsenal defender Pascal Cygan and Danish star Jon Dahl Tomasson for Villarreal. After plying his trade in MLS for almost two years, the 18-year old faces the prospect of Champions League football with the “yellow submarines”, who finished second in La Liga.
“I chose to be there, because it is a very good league,” said Altidore, during a press conference at Giants stadium prior to last night’s game with Chivas USA. “To me, I think it is second only to the English Premier League; it has a lot of respect and I like the way they play the game there – I think it would be a good place for me to further develop my game.”
“I’m still working out my personal terms so everything is a little bit crazy right now, but it will work itself out slowly but surely.”
The striker, who was previously rumored to be a target for Real Madrid and Premier League side Reading, explained that Villarreal made their first overture to him earlier this year, before the start of the MLS season.
“Villarreal actually approached me in January, and we talked briefly about things, but it never materialized,” he said. “The interest grew more and more and, fortunately for me, I was at a time where I was playing my better soccer and something materialized from there.”
Eye On World Cup 2010
The Red Bulls’ leading goal-scorer is also eyeing the 2010 World Cup, but denied that this drove his decision to leave the U.S.
“I’ve said that I want to get as good as I can be when that comes around, so I can compete for a roster spot and open eyes at that tournament,” he said. “But there was never a time where I felt I had to make that happen. I just wanted to be in a place where I could be challenged on a daily basis – it could have been anywhere.”
Like Freddy Adu prior to his move to Benfica last year, there has been a great deal of speculation about how long Altidore would spend in MLS before a big transfer overseas, something which the teenager admitted has been weighing on him.
“It’s a huge relief – the pressure factor is gone and now you can just play without the worry of ‘this is another audition’,” he acknowledged. “A lot of young players go through it, and when it’s finally done you can see from their play, like Freddy, you can see he’s just playing now, he’s having fun, and that’s the most important part.”
Red Bulls Sporting Director and former U.S. star Jeff Agoos paid tribute to Altidore during last night’s press conference, but admitted that his attacking prowess will be sorely missed.
“This speaks volume for him as a player – it was obviously a difficult decision to come to terms with, but we felt it was in the best interests of both Jozy and the club,” he said. “I don’t think that you can immediately replace somebody like Jozy.”
”We tried as much as we could to keep Jozy. But at a point we knew it wasn’t a question of if Jozy was going to go, but when. We felt it was in Jozy’s best interest to forward his career as well as help the club and help the league.”