When Michail Antonio signed for West Ham six years ago, it’s fair to say we didn’t think he would be written into the history books as our all-time Premier League top scorer.
But here we are in 2021 and that’s exactly what has happened!
We all gleefully watched the celebrations as he slotted home his 48th in the top flight. The choreographed moves were exactly what we have come to expect from the 31-year-old and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
While we might not have expected to see as many goals from someone who was once a makeshift right-back, there have always been murmurs suggesting that Antonio deserved international football given the effort he gives to his game.
After signing for the Hammers, Michail earned himself a couple of England call-ups. His abilities impressed first Sam Allardyce (of course!) and then Gareth Southgate. But he never made it onto the pitch in an England shirt.
Now he has deservedly been called up to play for Jamaica, having previously turned down the opportunity. But let’s face it, it was looking unlikely he was going to break into the England team any time soon.
It left many parties with divided opinions. The club, the fans and Antonio himself are undoubtedly proud of this achievement. He’ll be competing on an international level and that’s what footballers dream of.
However, the timing? Not ideal.
The Hammers are on the crest of a wave but are looking thin on the ground for strikers, therefore West Ham fans have had a pretty negative reaction to this news.
With no less than eight fixtures in the calendar for Jamaica before the year closes, his international duty will have a massive impact on Antonio’s season. The World Cup qualifiers come thick and fast, with three in September, three in October and two in November.
Adding to the sporting exertion is the travel fatigue. It’s so often blamed for tiredness throughout the season for teams in European competitions, so to have Antonio travelling afar for international fixtures as well as Europa League games is going to be exhausting.
Now can we address the elephant in the room, please? Michail Antonio’s delicate hamstrings.
Following intermittent injury layoffs last season, fans watched on from behind their sofas as the sight of our then number 30 running towards goal was as tense as a feature length thriller.
He missed 13 games through injury last season. It’s hard to see how this season would see any improvement on that number with many more games to play (15 in the Europa League, am I right?!).
The truth is, Mickey is too important to us right now. He’s just become our official number 9. His performances in the first two games this season showed us that he’s taking this responsibility seriously.
He may have jokingly told Neville and Carragher that he was hoping for 20 goals this season, but if he carries on in this form he’ll have it wrapped up by Christmas!
Pundits, fans and probably managers have always known that Antonio isn’t a ‘polished’ footballer.
Nevertheless, he just has to be on the team-sheet. Defenders do not like to play against him; he runs like no one else is around, he cares like it’s his last game, he knows where the goal is and just wants to get there.
For six seasons he’s been a big part of the squad. His story is the definition of living the dream – going from Tooting and Mitcham to playing 12 seasons between League One and the Championship, to finally making the big step to the Premier League.
Becoming the highest scorer for West Ham in the top flight is the cherry on top.
As a football fan, it’s inspiring and heart-warming, and we know that Antonio deserves to represent Jamaica and live out his dream of gaining international caps.
To have achieved all he has done and not play internationally will surely leave a lingering feeling of regret with him when he retires.
But as a West Ham fan, currently really enjoying football again, it’s a major concern to have our main striker pushing himself too far in order to pursue those dreams.
In the last two seasons, he’s reached double figures for goals – some clubs might not put those numbers in high regard, but many of those goals have been important.
Add that to his desire to give everything on the pitch and keep morale up, we can’t be without him.
Moyes is caught between a rock and a hard place here and he may have to make back up plans for a season without Michail Antonio leading the way, assuming that travel and injury catch up with him between Jamaica games and Europa League fixtures.