West Ham fans love a hard worker, someone who gives everything to the cause at all times. So it’s no real surprise that Michail Antonio has become one of the most loved players at West Ham since he arrived from Nottingham Forest 18 months ago. And it is fair to say that the forward is enjoying the best form of his career to date with 18 goals in 67 first team appearances for the Hammers and also received his first ever call-up to the England squad in August 2016.
As I sit down to discuss life at the club with him as part of Heineken’s HammerHeads competition at Rush Green, there are only two words Antonio has to describe what it’s like playing for West Ham United. ‘I’m home,’ he tells me, with a big grin on his face. It’s an admission that every West Ham fan will be delighted to hear. Put simply, Antonio is one of the most effective players at the club right now. But his journey from new arrival to first name on the team sheet has not been easy for the 27-year-old.
‘It’s difficult being a player that, for the last five or six years of my career, if I was fit I would have been playing,’ Antonio admits when I ask him about his first few months at the club. ‘At clubs like Sheffield Wednesday, Nottingham Forest and Colchester, I always played. So coming here and not playing was quite difficult because it was new to me.’
So, how does a player so used to playing every week adapt and remain focused on forcing his way into the manager’s plans? ‘I’m the kind of person who always believes in my ability, I believe in myself and I always told myself that if I ever get an opportunity, I’m going to take it. I always knew I was good enough to play in the Premier League, that’s what kept me going and what kept me motivated.’
That self-belief and motivation has been evident to those who have seen Antonio turn out for the Hammers week in, week out. Currently topping the squad’s scoring charts with eight in all competitions this season, Antonio has become a vital source of goals.
But how does a player who has played in a number of different positions for West Ham still manage to find his way on the scoresheet. ‘I just always want to get in the box,’ he tells me. ‘I’m the sort of player who always wants to be around the goal and more often than not, if you’re in the box, the ball might drop for you. ‘It’s one of those things where I’m always going to be there, I’m always going to make sure I’m around.’
His goalscoring antics have been amplified somewhat by his fun and quirky celebrations. Does he have another celebration lined up and can he tell us what it is? ‘Yeah, I have another one lined up but I’m not even giving you hint!’ Michail Antonio was speaking to James Jones as part of Heineken’s HammerHeads campaign.