What was the biggest disaster that happened on September 11th? Mikhail Antonio was sent off during injuries in the game against Southampton. This is the popular joke among West Ham fans these days, and understandable.
The star’s second, silly and unnecessary yellow will prevent him from taking part in the big battle against Manchester United on Sunday (16:00, live on Sports1), And given his sensational fitness this is a very significant blow. Rafael Varane and Harry Maguire can let out a sigh of relief.
Passed Paulo Di Canio
Antonio does not just lead the Premier League conquerors’ rankings alongside Bruno Fernandez at the end of four rounds. He was rightly named Player of the Month in the league in August, thanks to three exciting performances. Gate and cooking at 2: 4 in Newcastle, a spectacular duo and cooking at 1: 4 crushing on Leicester, another goal and cooking at 2: 2 against Crystal Palace. In total, he had four goals and three assists in the first three rounds, meaning more direct involvement than two goals on average per game. To put things in perspective, in all the history of the Premier League there has been only one player involved in more goals in August – his name is Thierry Henry, and he did so in 2004.
And speaking of the history of the Premier League, then the first goal against the Foxes has made Antonio the outstanding conqueror of the Hammers since its inception. He passed the legendary Paolo Di Canio, and now stands at 50. He broke the record, lifting it with a cardboard clip with a full.size photo of himself, which he prepared in advance and placed personally behind the bench. The scorer is known for original improvisations of goal celebrations – once he rolls like Homer Simpson, once he swims on his back. The last flash he did, he said, was inspired by the film Corrupt Dance. “I wanted someone to pick me up like in that famous scene, so I decided I would do it myself,” he claimed.
A classic wide.striker department store player
The achievement is especially impressive considering that Antonio did not come to West Ham at all on a striker standard. When he was signed in 2015 from Nottingham Forest and set off in the Premier League when he was already 25, he was seen mostly as a department store player for plugging holes. Coach Slavan Bilic even used him frequently in the right.back position. Besides, he was also an extremist in both wings, a central midfielder and a wing player in a lineup with three brakes – and also a sharp player, but only if the professional team had no other choice. He quickly demonstrated the developed senses in the field and found the net 17 times during the first two seasons in East London, but he only got the role of the classic wide striker in David Moyes’ second term on the team.
When the change became permanent over the course of last season, Antonio was not particularly enthusiastic. “I hated it at first,” he testified, because he was used to taking advantage of the speed at galloping into open spaces and getting to the valley positions from behind. But there was no choice – Sebastian Haller was sold to Ajax, and Antonio stepped into his shoes. Bottom line, it paid off for everyone. While the Frenchman is making a living in Amsterdam and celebrated his Champions League debut on Wednesday with a quartet at Sporting Lisbon’s stadium, Antonio faces how much this slot is tailor.made for him. The completion led to him even taking the No. 9 shirt this summer. “It was hard because I was emotionally attached to the No. 30 I played with for six years, but I’m No. 9 on the field now, so I felt I should be like that until the end,” he claimed.
“Puts chaos in the game”
Yesterday he was again in the right place at the right time. In a match against Dynamo Zagreb in the opening round of the Europa League home stage, Antonio took advantage of a poor delivery from the opponent’s brake to the goalkeeper, stole the ball, rolled it in and went down in history as West Ham’s first scorer in Europe in the current millennium, if not the qualifiers. The ability to predict errors of this kind is characteristic of him – he has the unique playing wisdom of a stray cat, as an actor who has never studied in academia.
Once, when he was 14, Tottenham offered him to try his luck, but his mother rejected the option outright because travel from south London was too long for her liking. So he remained an amateur footballer until he was 18, when Billy Smith – the man who discovered the mythical Ian Wright in the park at the time – recommended him to then.Reading manager Steve Koppel. Lack of formal football education can work in the player’s favor, as explains Alan Pardew, who coached Antonio on loan at Southampton when she was still in the third division. “Antonio puts chaos into the game, and that’s important. Academics can take away the trainees’ freedom to be who they really are,” he says. On the street, everyone sharpens their special features. “I’m rough,” Antonio always declared. This roughness makes him less predictable on the pitch, and the experience in defensive roles has also benefited him. “I understand defenders’ heads better, and try to take advantage of that,” he says.
The way up was very long. Loans for the third division included not only Southampton but also terms at Cheltenham, Colchester and Sheffield West Sunday. With the Owls he was promoted to the Premier League, proved himself, progressed to Nottingham and the Hammers have already paid him £ 7 million. He made this journey with a smile on his face, confidence and perseverance. Not everyone who played at 18 at an amateur team like Totting & Mitch M. gets a chance to get to the Premier League.Antonio remembers well how he worked as a lifeguard in a pool and hoped to start studying physical education at university.
The team missed him
This positive attitude, with endless investment in every game and every practice alongside a fantastic sense of humor, makes him a very popular character in the locker room and among the fans. Di Canio, with all his immense talent, was a very controversial figure. Antonio is in complete consensus. The media is dying for him, the interviews with him are always entertaining and refreshing, and he enjoys love even in terms of the neutral audience. Therefore, the campaign to add him to the team gained momentum at the time, and everyone was happy when Sam Allardyce invited him to the squad in September 2016.
Big Sam’s journey ended, as is well known, soon – but Gareth Southgate also continued to include the surprising hammer at the start of the World Cup qualifying campaign in Russia. Unfortunately, he remained on the bench at all games and then was injured ahead of another set of games in March 2017. After that, the English went on a younger roster and Antonio was no longer relevant to the coach. No further injuries were helpful, and the great hope of wearing the white shirt waned. Finally, he made a decision to accede to the Jamaican association’s request, which he has consistently refused for years – and made his debut last week in a loss to Panama in the World Cup qualifiers.
This timing, precisely after he entered phenomenal fitness, was unfortunate for many Englishmen. Former star Chris Woodell tried again in August to persuade Southgate to prevent the defection to Jamaica. “I said Antonio will raise us in euros, and it’s not too late to summon him,” he declared, but it turned out it was really late. Maybe the long flight across the Atlantic tired the striker a bit, because against Southampton he was not involved for the first time this season in goals – and finally also committed an offense that cost him and his team dearly for the upcoming round. But do not cry over the spilled milk. He has already defeated Zagreb, and is expected to return with renewed strength ahead of the struggles at the top of the league.
The goal – 20 league goals
This goal is not stated, but the West Ham people secretly hope that even the adventure from last season can be improved, so the Hammers finished in sixth place. Antonio then scored 10 league goals, just like in 2019/20, but this season is constantly higher. “Last year I did not live up to my own expectations, because I wanted at least 15 conquests. This time I aim for 20,” he said with a rolling laugh, and with him it is hard to know if he is talking seriously or joking. Even off the field, he is not really expected.
And that’s good – because Antonio adds a lot of color and unique brilliance. When he’s 31, his ascent seems to be just beginning. Ian Wright also blossomed at a relatively late age, and Antonio goes his own way. The Red Devils are really happy that they will not have to mess with him on Sunday, but the rest of the teams are expected to face one of the most likable players in England, and he may march West Ham to success in the Europa League as well.
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