So where will Jozy Altidore be playing next year?
In June 2008 U.S. men's national team striker Jozy Altidore made the biggest move of his fledgling soccer career when then Spanish La Liga side Villarreal signed him from Major League Soccer's New York Red Bulls for a reported $10 million, a record that still stands today.
When a team such as Villarreal puts down that kind of money for a young player, they are taking a chance on an investment that could possibly see them make a profit two or three years down the road should he perform well. While there were high expectations that the then 18-year-old Altidore would do well, things did not pan out as they should have with the youngster heading out on loan on three occasions just to get a chance to play.
Jump ahead nearly five years later and the 23-year-old Altidore could be one the most sought after strikers in this summer's transfer window.
Having made the move to Dutch Eredivisie side AZ Alkmaar in July 2011, many would have assumed the New Jersey native would fall of the radar like fellow prodigy Freddy Adu. However, Altidore has been determined to show that he could play and Alkmaar Technical Director Earnest Stewart's gamble in bringing the young American to the Dutch league has paid off.
Having scored 22 goals in all competitions in the 2011-12 season and following that up with a record-breaking 31 goals this season is proof enough that he has earned a move. While many may say that the Dutch league is not that strong, it is a league that has offered Altidore the chance to develop his game and this will be very beneficial to him should he move on to the next challenge in his career.
As Stewart remains adamant that Altidore is going nowhere this summer, there will be many suitors looking to lure him away from the AFAS Stadion. The Barclays Premier League seems like the logical choice and there are at least four teams that could certainly use Altidore's services in the next season, with one Dutch team, should the Alkmaar front office be swayed to accept an offer.
West Bromwich Albion
The Hawthorns have been fortunate to have Belgian striker Romelu Lukaku on loan this season from newly crowned Europa League champions Chelsea. Having scored 17 goals, he has certainly been one of the reasons why the team will accomplish a mid-table finish. However, it is unknown what plans the Blues have for the 20-year-old as Spanish international Fernando Torres and Senegalese international Demba Ba are on the books. If Chelsea decides to keep Lukaku next season, even though he has expressed a desire to return to WBA for a second loan spell, Altidore could be an ideal replacement as coach Steve Clarke looks to strengthen the team as they look to exceed this season's finish in the standings.
Now that the Birmingham-based team has secured their place in the EPL for next season, coach Paul Lambert and owner Randy Lerner can get things in order to make sure that the Villans do not go through a second season scrapping for survival. Lambert put Villa through his own version of shock therapy by using young players and pushing the veterans to the side such as England striker Darren Bent. With the possibility of the Bent leaving the team over the summer and interest in Belgian striker Christian Benteke grows, even though he has asked for a new deal, Lambert could be in the market for a new front man to partner Gabriel Agbonlahor. Altidore could possibly fit in the Midlands team if Lerner is willing to fork out the money to sign him and a few other players ensure that Villa does not go through another season battling for survival.
When Liverpool was acquired by the Fenway Sports Group in October 2010 it seemed that the ship had finally been righted after the debacle it went through under former owners George Gillett and Tom Hicks. However, since the takeover it has been a topsy turvy period for the Reds as they try to re-establish themselves as a top contender in the EPL. While coach Brendan Rodgers has brought some sense of stability to the team, there are still many holes that need to be filled before they can ever see themselves back amongst the ranks of Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and others.
One position Rodgers will look to strengthen is up top as he does not want to go through what he did in the first half of the season when he could not land a replacement for the loaned out England striker Andy Carroll. While he does have Daniel Sturridge and Uruguayan front man Luis Suarez, the former has lacked consistency in scoring while the latter cannot seem to stay out of trouble as his bite on Chelsea defender Branislav Ivanovic during a game can attest to that fact. If Liverpool follow through with their statements of not selling Suarez, it still would be good to bring in another striker such as Altidore who can challenge Sturridge to partner with Suarez or at least be another dimension to the attack.
With an English league cup in the bag and a top ten finish to end the season, the Welsh side has to be proud of their performance this season. However, next season will be a different story as they will most like be participating in the Europa League proper if they can get through their third round qualifying game against their not yet known opponent. Playing on two fronts is never easy and squad rotation will certainly be needed if the Swans are going to remain competitive in the EPL and in Europe. If Altidore were to make a return to the EPL, he could make it a quiet one by joining up with Swansea. One of the main reasons he could possibly fit in at Liberty Stadium is the partnership with Spanish hitman Michu.
The buy of season at only $3 million, the former Rayo Vallecano man could easily slide back into his attacking midfield role which he played in during his La Liga days, thus setting up Altidore for scoring opportunities. In addition, after scoring 18 goals, it maybe highly doubtful that coach Michael Laudrup can rely on Michu to score that many again in the next season. Therefore, he needs to strengthen his options up top and Altidore could fill that void.
While most analysts have chosen to look at destinations outside the Netherlands, there could possibly be one team in the country that could persuade Altidore to stay if a transfer is in the cards. Ajax has always been a team that has prided itself on developing players who went on to play with some of the top teams in Europe. This summer will be no different than any other as the Amsterdammers will be receiving many offers for players on their books.
On the other end, coach Frank de Boer will be looking to shore up his team as the reigning Eredivisie champions look to go further in next season's UEFA Champions League. The lure of playing in Europe's top competition could be the driving factor that attracts Altidore and encourages him to push Alkmaar to make a deal. It was not that long ago that Ajax had interest in bringing him to the team on a loan deal from Villarreal. After watching him perform over the past two seasons, that interest could be rekindled.
The world right now is at Altidore's feet and he is taking the right approach by letting Stewart and the AZ front office handle the upcoming transfer saga. While he has stated that he is happy at the team, the former U.S. international also knows that he cannot stay there forever. On the other hand, Stewart is not going to let Alkmaar's prized player go away cheaply as he will most likely be just as shrewd of a businessman like Tottenham Hotspur's Daniel Levy.
With U.S. national team boss Jurgen Klinsmann pushing players to get out their comfort zones, Altidore could be sooner rather than later heeding that call as he faces stiff competition to remain one of the top choices for the American's up top.
Whatever AZ and Altidore decide to do over the summer, it has to be a decision that works for both as they would most certainly want to avoid any fallout that is always seen during this period.