I could not have been happier for Michail Antonio when I heard he had been called up to the England squad because I really felt he had deserved it.
I know some West Ham fans don’t have many positive things to say about Sam Allardyce but he has taken a risk in selecting Antonio. He didn’t take many risks when he was our manager but this selection shows he appreciates raw talent and I think Antonio is the kind of player England need right now. He is a rough diamond who works hard, gives absolutely everything, and is over-the-moon at being called up.
How refreshing was his first press conference? ITV’s Gabriel Clarke said it was the best debut press conference by an England player that he had ever seen. He was brimming with confidence and genuinely gobsmacked that he was there but anyone who has seen him play on the wing knows it is well deserved. He really is a complete unknown when he is out wide and you never quite know what is going to happen but you know ultimately he is going to get you goals.
I interviewed him last week just after the Bournemouth game and we talked about how his life had changed in the space of a week. Against Chelsea, he’d given away the penalty and was hauled off which had left him devastated but a few days later he scored the first goal in the London Stadium in the Premier League.
He was euphoric about getting the winner and he was really open about playing right back. He doesn’t like it and has told the gaffer this because he knows he isn’t a defender and has never played in defence during his professional football career.
He was happy to play and do a job for the team but playing in a position you aren’t comfortable in, you are going to make mistakes. Having said that, even the best defenders in the world make mistakes like Antonio’s at Stamford Bridge.
He gives everything his best so he was understandably down after the Chelsea game but then it seems Slaven’s confidence in Sam Byram and Arthur Masuaku has grown and this has subsequently given Antonio another chance to play out wide. I’m so happy that Slaven stuck by him even after his mistake against Chelsea and now both player and manager are reaping the rewards. Michail told me that people gave him great vocal support and told him they had his back and now he is repaying them.
He didn’t lose his confidence in himself, he has always got a smile on his face and it just goes to show how powerful fans can be when they are positive.
As for the opposition giving him extra attention now that he’s had this call up, I think they tried to do this last season and it didn’t work too well. You can’t predict what he is going to do next. He is all arms and legs and battles his way through but if he, his teammates or the fans don’t know what he is going to do, the opposition defender has no chance.
And if clubs do start to double up on him, that’ll leave more space for the likes of Dimitri Payet or Manuel Lanzini to exploit. Finally, I was delighted to see Alvaro Arbeloa sign for us. I think defensively we needed another body but he brings a wealth of experience with him. I think it was a brilliant signing and it just goes to show the kind of players we can attract now
I think Arbeloa will get a run in the first team at the expense of Byram, even though Slaven’s confidence in him is growing, but if he doesn’t, what a player to have sitting on the bench!