Michail Antonio helped himself to a slice of Premier League history in West Ham United‘s 4-1 victory over Leicester City on Monday night. The Hammers forward’s two goals made him the club’s highest-ever scorer in the top-flight, with 49 goals to his name.
Antonio himself is rightly delighted with his record, and will no doubt extend it considerably between now and the end of the 2021/22 season. Here, we analyse the player’s transition from a perceived utility player into one of the most feared forwards in the English game.
How Michail Antonio Developed Into a First-Class Premier League Forward
Increased Maturity Seen as a Crucial Factor in Antonio’s Resurgence
For Michail Antonio, the route to Premier League stardom has been a long and complicated road. Many established top-flight footballers come through famously protected academy systems before making a name for themselves at senior level.
Antonio did it rather differently, starting out in non-league with Tooting and Mitcham FC before being picked up by Reading. The 31-year-old also took part in no fewer than five separate loan transfers as he searched for a club that truly believed in him.
It is fair to say Antonio has finally found the environment best-suited to him at West Ham, having joined the club from Nottingham Forest in 2015. The fact it has taken him six years and 161 games in the Premier League to reach the all-important 49-goal mark may seem unspectacular – but not when you consider that he was initially valued for his versatility, not his goals.
Indeed, former England coach Gary Neville has revealed to Sky Sports that he and Roy Hodgson once considered giving Antonio a senior England call-up as an auxiliary right-back.
Few could have seen Antonio becoming such an effective centre-forward in the years since then, so how has he done it? West Ham’s first-team coach, Stuart Pearce, credits the player’s maturity for his development, telling talkSPORT: “I signed him at Nottingham Forest when I was there [in 2014] and he was decent there. I am seeing somebody who has matured as a professional now to work with.
“He’s certainly a lot more professional in his outlook towards the game, I think. His two goals were outstanding yesterday.”
Antonio’s more driven outlook has certainly paid dividends in recent years. Of his 49 Premier League goals, 20 have come in the space of the last two seasons.
Did England Managers Miss a Trick by Not Trusting Antonio?
It is no secret that Antonio has been on England’s radar since Roy Hodgson’s time in charge of the national team. Despite having been named in first-team squads by both Sam Allerdyce and Gareth Southgate, the centre-forward was never granted a debut.
As such, Antonio decided earlier this year that his international future lies with Jamaica – the country of his parents’ birth – rather than England. The prospect of more regular international football was the most significant factor in the player’s thinking.
Gareth Southgate brought several exciting players with him in the forward positions for Euro 2020 this summer. However, none provided the kind of alternative to Harry Kane that Antonio might have offered, with England falling short at the final hurdle.
The West Ham fans’ favourite is set to play for Jamaica during the upcoming international break, meaning any prospect of Southgate utilising his ever-growing talent in an England shirt will soon be cemented in the past.