If we trace the roots of where things flew temporarily askew for Jozy Altidore last year, it started with his Dutch club’s uncooperative ways.
AZ Alkmaar insisted that Altidore rest upon completion of the Dutch season one year back, not permitting the U.S. striker to join up with Jurgen Klinsmann’s late May camp. No one around the U.S. staff was happy about it, especially not as it became apparent that Altidore’s fitness had suffered during the two-week break.
It became slightly more involved from there, but a message was sent and heard, Altidore worked his way back into good graces … and all was good for player and country once again.
But is it all about to happen again?
Altidore says AZ will not release him until days before the United States meets Jamaica on June 7. That’s about two weeks after Klinsmann gathers his team in California (on May 21 or 22) to prepare for two big friendlies and then a threesome of critical World Cup qualifiers in June.
Speaking on the Soccer Today radio show/podcast (a show that I co-host along with Marc Stein), Altidore said that if he was called in for U.S. duty (which would have been highly likely, of course), that he could report no earlier than around June 3:
Hopefully I will get called in, but I won’t be part in any of the [two friendlies] … I would be released three or four days before the first [qualifier] game against Jamaica, away. That would be the earliest AZ would release me. …
Last year, Altidore said, the club had sponsor-related post-season activities. This year, he’s not sure what the club has planned after its final Dutch Eredivisie match on May 12.
This year I have no idea what’s planned. But as of now, I was told that I am going to be here that I will not be released until the 28th or 29th of May, and will not be able to join [the U.S. camp], if I am invited, until the 3rd, or sometime around that date.
A U.S. Soccer spokesman told me today that the national team has had no communication with AZ on this issue as yet.
AZ is technically within its rights to hold its player until five days before the World Cup qualifier, same as any club. Since the May 29 match in Cleveland (against Belgium) and the June 2 high-profile date in D.C. (against Germany) are not on official FIFA fixture dates, clubs are under no obligation to release players early.
On the other hand, this rarely creates problems. So, what’s the deal?
Asset protection, for one. Altidore will certainly be a transfer target this summer as AZ, a small club that could certainly use the cash, looks to maximize value on his exceptional 30-goal season. (Well, 30 and counting, that is.)
Mostly, tough, this sounds like AZ being difficult. There is some history of AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek being difficult on this stuff. Michael Bradley had similar issues in his days with Heerenveen, when Verbeek was manager there.
As for Altidore, what matters most is what he does in the three weeks before he eventually gets into the U.S. camp. If AZ is training (unlikely over that entire period), he’ll be OK. But if he’s not working out with a team … then it starts looking like 2012 over all again.
Either way, we’ll be hearing more about this one.