Jozy Altidore: Sunderland cannot afford to lose sight of the bigger picture

Jozy Altidore has told Gus Poyet not to let Sunderland's relegation battle distract him from the rebuilding job in hand

Jozy Altidore
Jozy Altidore

Jozy Altidore has urged Gustavo Poyet not to be distracted from his rebuilding job at Sunderland by the threat of relegation.

With one point from their first seven games, and already six adrift of Premier League safety, Poyet will start his top-flight managerial career at Swansea’s Liberty Stadium under pressure to prolong it into next season. But American striker Altidore believes his main job is simply “building a good team” from the wreckage of Paolo Di Canio’s “management by hand grenade”, and that more pressing needs should not interfere with that.

“I think it kind of stunts (a team’s development) when you’re trying to build something because the pressure of staying in the league,” said Altidore, who was relegated at the end of his season-long loan at Hull City in 2009-10. “Every year there are different types of teams in the Premier League just trying to stay up.

“If we can just focus on building a good team and try to leave the rest of the stuff out, it will be good for us. Hopefully the new manager can help us do that.”

Di Canio spent pre-season trying to reshape his Sunderland squad and build them around a style of football designed to get the ball forward quickly. At Brighton and Hove Albion Poyet favoured a more deliberate passing approach mimicking that of Barcelona.

At his unveiling last week, Poyet suggested he would not try to change everything at once – a wise move considering he will not meet eight members of his squad for the first time until they return from international duty on Thursday.

But clearly appointing the Uruguayan was not a quick-fix by owner Ellis Short, something Altidore obviously hopes his fellow American understands.

Altidore was speaking to the official Major League Soccer website after his fifth goal of the season helped USA to qualify for the World Cup finals. Crucially, though, none have come in the Premier League.

Altidore scored one league goal in his season with Hull, but insists there is no mental barrier stopping him adding to that tally. Eight goals in international football this year, including six in his last six starts, have assured the 23-year-old that if the service is there, he will deliver.

“Any player is a product of the environment,” he reasoned after Sunday’s 2-0 win over Jamaica. “If we’re playing good attacking football, you’re always going to have opportunities to score goals.

“I don’t change my mentality or the way I play. I feel like I’m playing well at Sunderland. We just have some bad luck right now.”

Knowing the USA have secured their place at next summer’s World Cup gives Altidore – who broke his Sunderland duck in the 4-2 League Cup win against Milton Keynes Dons – extra incentive. “I just want to play wherever I can to get to Brazil,” he added. “That’s my whole focus. I just want to do my part to make sure I’m on that plane next summer.”

The lack of Premier League goals in Sunderland’s squad is one alarming statistic that needs to be put right.

Steven Fletcher has 30 with the Black Cats, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Burnley. But Fabio Borini has one, Connor Wickham one and Ji Dong-won and summer signing Emanuele Giaccherini two apiece.

That has led to speculation that Poyet could move for Leonardo Ulloa when the transfer window re-opens in January. The Argentinian, who has scored 13 goals for Brighton this year after Poyet bought him from Spanish side Almeria, has been quick to play down such talk.

“I’m fine, I’m happy here, my family are happy in the city. Nothing has changed this week since last week, when Gustavo wasn’t head coach at Sunderland,” said Ulloa.

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