Pace, power and goals. The qualities Michail Antonio told West Ham fans he will bring to the table after completing his deadline day move from my club, Nottingham Forest. It’s not an idle boast – the 25-year-old has brought all three in abundance during his all-too-short stay at the City Ground.
Check out the YouTube clip of a goal against Bolton in February. He controls the ball with his chest on the halfway line and, despite a quarter of defenders lying deep, he simply surged through the lot of them before hammering the ball into the net. There are plenty of other highlights to be found of Antonio’s best moments in red to get you drooling about the possibilities of what he can achieve in claret and blue .
And while I think it is definitely £7million well spent – and good on West Ham for picking a player out of the Championship rather than going for yet another Premier League import – the one warning I would offer is … Antonio is the ultimate YouTube footballer.
The clips of him scoring and creating goals are there in abundance, during his time at Forest he has led the way both in goals and assists, but what you won’t see are the moments when he didn’t look good enough for Tooting & Mitcham, his club up to the age of 18.
He isn’t the kind of polished player who would have come through your famed academy, and sometimes those fault lines show.With Antonio having notionally played in a left-wing role at Forest their left-backs, such as the much-maligned Danny Fox, probably won’t be shedding too many tears at Antonio’s departure
Tracking back wasn’t generally his forte and, when he did, you were often left wishing he hadn’t bothered. For example, he gave away a pointless penalty early in Forest’s 1-0 FA Cup humbling at Rochdale in January. There wasn’t a poorer player on the pitch that day. But in fairness to Antonio, that was one of the few occasions where there wasn’t a moment of magic to more than make amends. Twenty goals in 55 games, including four in five this season, are impressive figures for a midfielder playing in a largely struggling side.
And his value is rising fast. Fans of his previous club Sheffield Wednesday gave Antonio rather grudging reviews and yet the £1.5million paid by Stuart Pearce, who seems to have acquired a reputation as a hopeless manager, has been multiplied almost five times in little over a year at the City ground.
It will be fascinating to see how Antonio will cope in the Premier League but, while Forest fans won’t like this comment, returning to his London roots and joining West Ham seems a natural step for a player who had loan spells in the lower leagues with Colchester, Southampton and Cheltenham before taking the Championship by storm. Undoubtedly he had become the main man at Forest and probably the first name on the team sheet until being left out a couple of weeks ago because transfer speculation meant he apparently wasn’t in the right frame in mind. To get £7million for a player who wants to go is good business for Forest – and while his goals and assists will undoubtedly be missed – it may help current manager Dougie Freedman to find a formation that works with his preference for two more orthodox wingers
But it’s also great business for West Ham, whose extra quality and strength in depth will take away the burden on Antonio and allow you to play to his strengths. Throw him on with 20 minutes to go against a tiring defence, as Forest did in a League Cup tie at Walsall a few weeks ago, and see what happens. He’s unpredictable and an enigma. But unleash him as an impact player and despite his obvious limitations it won’t take long for Antonio’s self-assessment to come to fruition. As the man himself says: pace, power, goals.