[INTERVIEW] U.S. striker Jozy Altidore doesn't turn 21 until November. But he has already played in MLS, the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga, the Olympics and in a World Cup. After a year on loan with Hull City in the EPL he’s back at Villarreal, which bought him from the New York Red Bulls in 2008 for a reported $10 million. Altidore, who’s trying to break into the starting lineup of La Liga’s second-place team, explains why he's happy to be back in Spain ...
SOCCER AMERICA: In the middle of your first season at Villarreal you went on loan to second division Xerez. For the 2009-10 season you went on loan with Hull City in the English Premier League. Are you glad to be back at Villarreal?
JOZY ALTIDORE: It’s really nice to get back to the club that bought me.
Leaving on loan was a tough decision. If I had to do it again, I probably would have stuck it out and stayed.
I think staying would have been in my best interest in terms of developing more as a player, adapting to the culture and getting comfortable.
But things happen for a reason. England was a good experience. My game experience at Hull was valuable for me.
SA: What are the main differences between La Liga and the EPL?
ALTIDORE: How Spain played in the World Cup reflects how the soccer is played in the league. I think it’s the best soccer in the world. I love the way they play in Spain.
England’s a lot more physical. The game here in Spain is really focused on technical side.
England combines everything at once. There are teams that are very technical. You have teams that are very strong, teams that rely their athleticism -- which is what makes it such a great league.
But in Spain it’s more based on technique and it makes you a better player down the road.
And the way they bring up players in Spain from a young age is what puts them in a position to win the World Cup.
SA: What is it they do with young players?
ALTIDORE: I wish I knew! They just have a different way of playing, a different way about them. Players grow up with it. The history and the culture … all that plays into it. It’s a soccer country.
SA: How different are the practices at Villarreal compared to Hull City?
ALTIDORE: They’re a world of difference, a 100 percent difference. As a pure soccer player, in Spain the training is phenomenal. To become a sharper soccer player, there’s nothing to compare it to, at least at our club.
It’s pretty impressive the way we approach training everyday.
In Spain, the emphasis is that you’re still developing as a player. We do a lot of things that sharpen your individual game, whether it’s just pure passing or it’s one-on-one. Of course, we also do a lot things that incorporate what you want to do as a team.
SA: How do you like life in Spain, off the field?
ALTIDORE: I’m by the beach, so I can’t complain. The food is delicious. You always have your salads. There’s the bocadillos – sandwiches. I have paella every now and then. Valencia paella is the best.
SA: How’s your Spanish?
ALTIDORE: It’s good.
SA: Did you take classes?
ALTIDORE: No. I just learned by listening. Being around the team.
SA: You've seen action in the Europa League. What do you need to do to break into the starting lineup for La Liga games?
ALTIDORE: I just need to keep working hard and be ready when I get an opportunity. We play a 4-2-2-2 – and I’m aiming for one of the two spots up front. I’ve got two great players in front of me, Nilmar and Giuseppe Rossi.
(Editor’s note: Brazilian Nilmar and Italian Rossi lead La Liga in scoring with five and four goals, respectively, for Villarreal, which has won five of six games and had five players called up by Spain for this week's European Championship qualifiers.)
SA: Not many Americans have played in a World Cup, for a top Spanish club and in the EPL before their 21st birthday. How do you feel about the how your career has gone?
ALTIDORE: I’m pleased but at the same time I want a lot more. It’s all great what I’ve experienced, but I also feel like I’m starting from scratch because there’s a lot more I want to accomplish.
I want to be successful in European soccer.