Antonio must get his head right if he wants to reach his potential

The popular winger has lost his way this season after being linked with a move

I n a game dominated by turbo-charged egos, Michail Antonio was the proverbial breath of fresh air.

Beginning at nonleague Tooting and Mitcham, Antonio plied his trade as a journeyman footballer, passing through seven league clubs before signing for West Ham in September 2015.

It was a Jamie Vardystyle climb through the lower leagues that could only endear him to fans. He immediately won respect, patiently waiting as he stood on the fringes of the first team.

Antonio subsequently played in a number of positions including wing back, midfield, right back and striker. All of which he did without complaint or dissent.

Antonio’s consistency rightly earned him Hammer of the Year last season. He was seemingly, a club legend waiting to be crowned.

But a malaise has descended on the big man that brings into question his future at the club.

Antonio’s season has been fairly wretched and curiously marked by the two Crystal Palace fixtures.

In October, the great corner flag scandal unfairly marked him as a pariah. Leading 2-1 with the final minutes ebbing away, he took the ball to the corner flag and delivered a weak cross that lost possession.

A swift move up field resulted in a Palace equaliser, robbing the Hammers of two points.

Reaction in the media was astonishing. Garth Crooks felt Antonio should train with the Academy players for four weeks to atone for his schoolboy error.

How crass and judgmental, moreover why let 10 players off the hook as if they were totally blameless?

Joe Hart happily stuck the boot in during post-match interviews lamenting how the lads felt let down.

Whilst glass houses and stones spring to mind, it seemed wholly unnecessary for a teammate to twist the knife further still.

Yes, Antonio’s a big boy and will get over it; he had a brain fade and won’t do it again. But was a public apology absolutely necessary? Has any West Ham defender apologised for goals gifted to opponents this season?

This incident might indicate a deteriorating relationship with both players and staff.

For the home fixture against Palace in January, Antonio sufficiently recovered from a groin injury, was now available for selection. However, he was omitted for a breach of club discipline.

Club captain Mark Noble wasted no time embellishing the story for media consumption.

In Noble’s words Antonio showed his teammates disrespect by failing to attend a pre-match meeting on time. David Moyes added that it wasn’t the first time he’d fallen foul of the rules.

Lateness is disruptive to the team and Moyes was quite right to take action but did Noble really have to give the media a story where there need not have been one?

Players only go public about a teammate when they have an axe to grind, and comments made by Hart and Noble only feed the notion they have issues with him.

Antonio later appeared as sub in the Brighton game and played on the left side of midfield against Watford.

Antonio later appeared as sub in the Brighton game and played on the left side of midfield against Watford.

How exactly to use such a player would be a pleasant dilemma for most managers. Antonio’s versatility may even be his undoing as one quickly loses sight of his best position.

Ostensibly a winger, Moyes has played him in a variety of positions including centre forward. Players should have sufficient intuition to play in more than one position if required but there must surely be a limit.

When Antonio was negotiating a new contract, he wanted reassurance that the club saw him as an attacking player and not a defender.

How far the club could honour such a commitment was debatable; especially with a change of manager and injuries forcing a tactical re-think but they have largely played him in advanced, attacking roles and could not be seen as a source of discontent.

So are personal differences and disciplinary issues bad enough for him to ship out? The worst case scenario would leave the club significantly worse off.

Antonio has many admirers and would not be short of potential suitors. In such inflationary times £30 million might be the opening gambit should anyone bid for his services.

But who could replace him? Can the club go into the transfer market and find a suitable replacement? There is certainly no current player capable of covering as many positions so effectively?

If we assume his preferred role is right attacking midfielder there is a paucity of choice.

During his enforced absence, Sam Byram was tried on the right as was Declan Rice; a variation in formation often pushed Zabaleta into the channel usually occupied by Antonio.

But right backs and defensive midfielders will never fill his shoes. The Hammers need Antonio’s pace and strength in the air; an unerring ability to unsettle defenders and an engine that will carry him from boxto-box.

But does he need the club as much as they need him? The big man might be humming a certain tune by the Clash; let’s hope he makes the right decision.

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