With a personality even bigger than some of the goals he’s scored, it’s fair to say Michail Antonio is one of football’s craziest characters. His numerous pranks and hilarious social media posts often put the former Tooting & Mitcham man in the headlines for non-footballing reasons, however, I think there’s definitely a case for him to receive more plaudits for his work on the pitch.
Whilst not quite being able to boast a career as successful as Jamie Vardy, there are certainly a number of parallels that can be drawn between their journeys. Antonio began his career at Tooting & Mitcham before signing for Reading in 2008. A young player back then, Antonio found himself loaned out more often than not and during these spells represented Cheltenham Town, Colchester United, Southampton and finally Sheffield Wednesday. It was at Wednesday where Antonio began to really find a home after he notched 5 goals in 14 appearances for the Sheffield side, a return impressive enough to merit the club moving for him on a permanent basis. Following this he hit the ground running and was the clubs top scorer in his first season, before his campaign was cut short by injury.
After showing such promise, Antonio was sought after by Nottingham Forest, where he moved in 2014, a move which brought huge personal success as he started every league game and finished as the club’s player of the season. It was at Forest where he really caught the eye and after reported interest from a number of clubs, West Ham United eventually signed him for around £7m.
Since his unbelievable run of form at the end of last season, which was absolutely vital in us staying up, Antonio has finally got people sitting up to take notice at just how good a player he is. Although the majority of his 10 goal tally came in that run of form after football restarted, it’s easy to forget that he managed 26 Premier League goals prior to that. If you add these totals to the 3 he’s notched so far this season, that puts him on 39 Premier League goals and within shooting distance of being West Ham’s all time top scorer in the top division. This record is currently held by none other than Paolo Di Canio who managed 47 in the top flight, however, Mark Noble is just behind with 46, so a few penalties could possibly nudge the record slightly further away from Antonio. Overall, Antonio sits 4th in West Ham’s all time Premier League top scorers list, hardly an accolade to be sniffed at.
So we’ve considered Antonio’s goal scoring prowess, but it’s also important to recognise the magnitude of some of the goals he’s scored. His first goal for the Hammers was an extremely fortuitous one as he fell over and had the ball kicked into him before it looped over the Southampton keeper, but it signalled the start of a turnaround with Andy Carroll subsequently netting the winner. As well as this, Antonio also bagged in a famous extra time win over Liverpool in our final season at Upton Park and played his part by scoring in that comeback from 2-0 down away at Everton too. In between these two finishes, he also put Spurs’ title challenge to the sword that year with a brilliant header at Upton Park, a goal very fondly remembered by us fans.
Not content with his work up to that point, the self-nicknamed ‘Beast’ also scored West Ham’s first ever Premier League goal at the London Stadium, leaving his name in history with a winning header against Bournemouth. This seemed to leave Antonio with a taste for making history as he went on to score the first ever away goal at the Tottenham Hotspur stadium to guide the Hammers to Spurs’ first defeat at their new home, how sweet that was too. This was just a quick whistlestop tour of Antonio’s famous goals but when you add in the absolutely crucial strikes that helped us avoid the drop last year, it’s clear that we owe the big man a lot. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Antonio is also a Hammer of the year winner in 2017 too and has even managed to contribute 14 assists in his time in East London.
Now to consider the slightly less tangible aspects of Michail’s game. Antonio has played all over the place for the irons, enduring a short (and unsuccessful) stint at right back, operating on the wing and also most recently playing as a lone striker. In all of these roles, he has always offered something and given his all. Many will argue that Antonio isn’t the most naturally gifted footballer ever and whilst that is true, I do think there is still a lot more to be said for his technical ability than most assume. After all, you don’t play and score at the top level as frequently and consistently as he has without some talent behind you! In years gone by, Antonio has found himself isolated, as many a West Ham striker have, when playing up front, alone. However, this has never stopped him from harassing and pestering opposition players for 90 mins, sometimes to no avail. More recently, this hasn’t been the case as Moyes has finally managed to find a system that works in an attacking sense and this has largely been down to the work of Antonio himself.
The ‘beast’ is an absolute nightmare to play against and there is no doubt in my mind that defenders dread having to battle away against him every week. Physically, Antonio is unmatched and I heard in a recent interview that he attributes his recent performances up top to a tip given to him by David Moyes, who told him to always be in line with the ball when we have possession, no matter the circumstances. This has led to Antonio being a focal point of any attack and even if he isn’t the one to provide the goal or the assist, he very often plays a big part in the build up or occupies enough defenders to allow the likes of Bowen and Fornals to shine. Quite simply, every time he steps on the pitch for West Ham now, he adds another dimension to the Hammers and he has been absolutely unplayable for a while now, something which even his goal tallies don’t emphasise enough.
In summary, I think it’s time both West Ham and other football fans give Antonio the respect he deserves. He has provided for the Hammers for a number of years now, scoring crucial goals, breaking records and making history. No doubt a hilarious character off the pitch, I think it’s time that he gets recognition on it too. In my opinion, Michail Antonio is one of West Ham’s best ever players in the Premier League era.
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