There are a few truths in the world that are universally acknowledged. Grass is green, the sky is blue, the Pope is Catholic – and now a new one has been added to the list courtesy of West Ham United: Michail Antonio is not a right back. It’s time we, as a club, accepted this and stopped trying to jam a square peg into a round hole, especially when we have a very good if young round peg available to us in Sam Byram.
Antonio stepped up in a time of crisis and did his very best to help the club in a time of need and for that I am grateful to him. But no one individual should be expected to continuously sacrifice their promising career to make up for the shortcomings of the club when it comes to filling our defensive positions. Aft er all, Antonio is an adequate right back, but to have him in that position means we’re missing out on having one of our most talented wingers driving forward and scoring goals as well as selling him short of his potential in front of a global audience.
Last season, he scored eight goals and assisted a further seven in the Premier League – an impressive statistic especially considering this was his first foray into Premier League football and he only featured in 26 games. Th is year he should be encouraged to continue this success, but keeps finding himself being taken out of midfield to fill a defensive position.
Fans have long begged Slaven Billic to put Antonio back in his rightful place on the wing and put promising youngster, and true right back, Sam Byram in defence. Now, aft er two games in the Premier League this season, the two players have delivered as much proof as could possibly be needed for them to play in their correct positions. Th e Chelsea game was a dreadful one for Antonio and a troubling one for Hammers fans.
During the match, Antonio gave away a penalty and immediately after was hauled off the pitch by Slaven Billic. Whether this substitution was for the sake of the team or the sake of Antonio isn’t certain, but the image of the frustration on Antonio’s face as he was coming off the pitch is one that will stay with me for a while. I wouldn’t have blamed him if he refused to be a scapegoat any longer after that point.
The next game, against Bournemouth, was the complete opposite for Antonio and the fans. It took the Hammers a while to find the back of the net, but within one game, with Antonio back in midfield and Byram as right back, the two players put in a solid performance for West Ham. Byram contributed strongly to keeping a clean sheet, whilst Antonio powered home a reminder of what he’s capable of in midfield as he scored the Hammers’ first Premier League goal in their new home.
Injuries have certainly impacted Billic’s choices on the pitch in the beginning of the season – no one could have foreseen that horror tackle on Aaron Cresswell and his lengthy time off as a result – but with new teammate Arthur Masuaku looking comfortable at left back, Byram can work on becoming a regular Premier League starter at right back, Antonio must surely be able to move back to being a driving force and a physical powerhouse of energy moving up in an attacking area of the pitch.
Antonio is a great player, a hard worker and the sort of man I am proud to have at West Ham United. He doesn’t deserve to throw himself on his sword in order to be able to play football; it’s just not right. As a player who has the potential to be considered for the England squad for years to come he he has earned the right to present himself in the best light and position possible to further his career.
He spent far too much of last season, preseason and this season ‘taking one for the team.’ He did his best to support us; but now it’s time we support him in playing in his true role – and enjoy watching the goals he scores as a result.