Although it was Ajax who came out on top in the 2012/13 Dutch Eredivisie championship, in regards to goals scored not one single Ajax player featured in the list of the top ten highest goal scorers for the 12/13 season. And in a competition so often dominated by one or two teams each year, it therefore makes sense why the highest scoring and most clinical goal-scorers for the less successful teams in the Eredivisie are so often signed and propelled to the next level away from the Netherlands. Nearly two full seasons on from Ajax’s success in 2012/13, the statistics really do make for interesting reading especially when you take a closer look at the career path of the top four leading scorers.
Leading the way with a total of thirty-one league goals scored was Wilfried Bony, whose goal-scoring achievements whilst playing for Vitesse Arnhem initially helped earn the Ivorian a lucrative transfer to the English Premier League with Swansea City in Summer 2013 and more recently a move to high-fliers Manchester City. Second and third place Graziano Pellé and Alfred Finnbogason ended the 2012/13 season with twenty seven and twenty four goals respectively and subsequently soon followed in Bony’s foot-steps, moving onto pastures new a year later. A new look Southampton side quickly swopped for Graziano Pelle in July 2014, reuniting the Italian forward with his former Feyenoord mentor Ronald Koeman, whilst Alfred Finnbogason swapped Heerenveen for La Liga and Spanish side Real Sociedad in a move which saw the Icelandic striker move for a reported €10M subject to add-ons.
Meanwhile in fourth place sits a striker who was already a familiar name to many fans not just in the Netherlands or even in his native USA but after a brief but unsuccessful stint with Hull City, in England too – Jozy Altidore. After a promising start to his footballing career applying his trade and scoring regularly for the New York Red Bulls of the MLS, his consequent move to the Villarreal did not at all go according to plan. An unsettled three years with Spanish side Villarreal saw the American shipped on loan to a trio of sides: Xerez, Hull City and Bursaspor before returning to his parent club in Spain, only then to be sold permanently to Dutch side AZ Alkmaar in what looked to be a key move in his quickly diminishing career to date. His fifteen goals in two seasons with New York Red Bulls proved a stark contrast with his three goals in as many years out on loan from Villarreal and inevitably many football fans and pundits asked exactly why would AZ Alkmaar take the gamble and chance signing a player who had seemingly not reached anywhere near his early promise and potential? But what was to follow took many (including myself) by surprise.
Jozy Altidore joined AZ Alkmaar in the summer transfer window of 2011 and made an instant impact with an eightieth minute goal against PSV Eindhoven. He then followed his debut goal with further goals in both the Eredivisie and Europa League and the early signs suggested not only had AZ Alkmaar perhaps pulled off one of the biggest shocks of the summer transfer window with a rejuvenated Jozy Altidore but signs that the American forward was perhaps getting his career back on track after several difficult years following his move from the MLS. And as his good form continued throughout the season, culminating in a fourth place finish in the top goal-scorers list for the 12/13 Eredivisie season, a mere one goal behind Heerenveen striker Finnbogason, Jozy Altidore soon found himself on the receiving end of speculation linking himself with another big move away. His winning goal in the KNVB Cup Final in May 2013 proved to be the icing on the cake for Altidore, capping a remarkable two years at AZ Alkmaar and consequently, a move away looked inevitable for a striker whose form and recent goal-scoring record before moving to the Netherlands was questionable at best. As expected, his departure soon followed as Sunderland led the way and moved quickly to fend off any interest, signing the high-flying forward on a four year contract to the value of a reported $13M in July 2013.
Now fast-forward from 2013 to a mere two or three weeks ago. After sealing lucrative double-figure moves to the Premier League back in the heat of the summer transfer window of 2013, both Wilfried Bony and Jozy Altidore were recently once again on the move, except this time in the cold and the frost of the winter window of 2015. But their stories, their development and ultimately both the size and the importance of their next transfer couldn’t be any further apart. But why? But How?
Both players completed moves to the Premier League in July 2013 following a successful two years in the Dutch Eredivisie. As far as similarities go, both Altidore and Bony signed for teams who many would say perform and operate at a similar level and standard, two teams that both begin with ‘S’ (Sunderland and Swansea City respectively) and most importantly, teams whereby each striker would not only prove to be their marquee Summer signing but a signing which fans had very high expectations for, leading the line for their individual respective clubs.
Wilfried Bony got off to a flying start, scoring a consolation goal on his Premier League debut in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of Manchester United. Jozy Altidore meanwhile also started brightly; scoring and spurring a dramatic late come-back against MK Dons in the League Cup. Yet whilst Bony continued to go from strength to strength, quickly adding to his record of goals scored in the Premier League and other competitions, Jozy Altidore despite his encouraging start made Sunderland fans wait until December 2013 for his first league goal. So was this a true sign of things to come?
With regards to the Ivorian, it was clear from very early on that in his opening season at Swansea City that he had well and truly took to the Premier League like a duck to water. Michu’s regular absence and eventual failure to perform went unnoticed as Bony soon became the main man for Swansea City, with notable goals coming in all competitions earning the Ivorian several plaudits and widespread praise. His brace against Stoke City in a 3-3 draw back in November 2013, coupled with his heroic and last-gasp goal to hand Swansea City their first ever win at Old Trafford knocking Manchester United out of the FA Cup further proved that Wilfried Bony was the real deal. His return of seventeen goals thirty four games in all competitions suggested the suggested the Ivorian’s purchase was money well spent, in what was a £12M record signing for the Welsh side.
In stark contrast, Jozy Altidore instead of taking up from where he had left off in Holland seemed to return to the Jozy Altidore of old, replicating his inconsistency and poor-form from his last Premier League stint with Hull City. A man of the match performance in his first Tyne-Wear derby gave Sunderland fans hope that perhaps it was only a matter of time till Jozy Altidore hit first gear and eventually proved his worth, but disappointment was soon to follow the prior anticipation, resulting in the $13M American striker being dropped to the Sunderland under twenty one setup instead of featuring against Tottenham Hotspur in April 2014. In comparison to Wilfried Bony’s success, Jozy Altidore found the net twice in a total of thirty seven appearances.
But after the similar promise, potential and prowess both players had shown on a weekly basis in the Eredivisie, why was it that Wilfried Bony was achieving the unthinkable whilst Jozy Altidore’s goal-scoring seemed unobtainable?
The 2014/15 season therefore had a different, significant importance for each individual. Whilst Bony was receiving interest from the likes of Arsenal and Liverpool, as well as sides throughout Europe who looked to provide the Ivorian with a platform to elevate Bony to the next level and a pathway to performing in European competition, Jozy Altidore you would expect was optimistic, hoping for a fresh start to life in the Premier League and hoping to re-capture the form which helped earn him a move in the first place. But in ever so typical fashion, both players continued to hit the headlines for the exact same reasons. Wilfried Bony continued to defy the odds, setting records as the Swansea City’s all-time leading Premier League goal-scorer and for the player with the most Premier League goals in the calendar year of 2014 with a total of twenty, in contrast Jozy Altidore scored only once in six appearances by the end of October 2014. As Bony continued be plastered across the newspapers for all the right reasons in regards to his goal-scoring exploits and reports linking him with a move to Manchester City as a replacement for the outbound Alvaro Negredo, Altidore continued to receive scrutiny and criticism for his performances on the pitch and predictable media attention for his comments and actions off the pitch, expressing his intention to ‘start elsewhere’ if it didn’t ‘turn around by January’.
Therefore treating January 2015 as a barometer as to how far each had progressed since swapping the Eredivisie for the Premier League, it’s fair to say which of the two was more accustomed to life not just in England and playing in the Premier League, but also in applying their trade and scoring at the highest level. As Wilfried Bony sealed a deal to Premier League champions Manchester City for a reported £28M, the Ivorian was quoted as saying he was hungry to play in the Champions League and his goal-scoring record and real ability suggests the Ivorian will continue to go from strength to strength in the upper echelons of the modern game. Jozy Altidore on the other hand soon found himself as part of an exchange deal taking the American back to Major League Soccer, this time to Toronto FC, allowing Englishman Jermain Defoe to move in the other way and join Sunderland.
In summary, Jozy Altidore’s return of one goal in forty-two league games and a further two goals in fifty-two appearances really does leave a lot to be desired and such form would suggest a return to the MLS may be the best option for the twenty five year old striker, should he wish to resurrect his faltering career ahead before it really is too late. As Wilfried Bony grew from strength to strength and continues to do so, sadly Jozy Altidore struggled to replicate his admirable goal-scoring record of 2011-13 whilst at AZ Alkmaar. Evidently, such goal-scoring achievements is testament to his potential and footballing ability but only time will tell whether or not his time at Sunderland is to be the final nail in the coffin to Altidore’s aspirations to play at the highest level. Unlike many, at the age of twenty five he certainly has time on his side but many including myself would argue his latest move to Toronto FC will prove pivotal. Will this be the final chapter in a story full of its ups and downs or will American football fans see their protagonist find the happy ending they have both sought after for so long? The story continues.
Article written by: @ASelbyInfo