Michail Antonio is now synonymous with West Ham United. His attitude, the way he goes about his work, and the fact that the Hammers are so much poorer in his absence makes him the talismanic striker the London club have been crying out for over the past decade. With one more goal, he will overtake Paolo Di Canio and become the club’s highest-ever scorer in the Premier League.
Di Canio is a controversial Premier League cult hero, who thrilled us all with his sensational scissor volley against Wimbledon and won plaudits for his fair-play acts on the pitch. Since then, West Ham have had the likes of Freddie Kanoute, Carlton Cole and Andy Carroll leading the line, but now they once again have a top quality striker that can run defences ragged.
His journey to the top of the game has been a difficult one, and for years it was unknown where his best position even was. Starting at Tootham and Micham United, he got a move to Reading, but his real breakthrough came at Sheffield Wednesday.
He moved into an attacking right-winger position and began to find his goalscoring touch at Hillsborough before Nottingham Forest came in for him. His return of 14 league goals from the wing at Forest earned him a move to West Ham, where they accidentally stumbled upon one of the finest strikers in the Premier League.
Almost all of West Ham’s striker signings, from big money stars to Championship hopefuls, have disappointed one way or another. Jordan Hugill never made the step up, Simone Zaza flopped despite international experience, and the less said about Sebastian Haller the better. Given their lack of talented options over the years, Antonio seemed like the last pick of players who could do a job up top.
He’d been tried at right-back, left-back, on both wings and behind the striker in his six years at the club before being pushed up to lead the line. But the Hammers haven’t looked back. When looking at his unique physical attributes, you can see why he was tried in so many positions before flourishing up front.
His stamina and strength is that of a buccaneering full-back, he has the pace that makes him an ideal outlet on the wing and his dribbling ability has seen him slot in as a number 10. But to get the best out of all these freakish attributes, letting him lead the line has been the perfect decision.
His game has grown exponentially since first being pushed into the sole striker role. He chases and harries down defenders as would be expected from someone with his work rate, but now he is using his strength in the right way. He never gets pushed off the ball by defenders and his huge leap means he is rarely beaten in the air, but the attribute that has clearly improved the most is his goalscoring instinct.
On the rare occasions he is not involved in the build-up for David Moyes’ side, he is found lurking in the box, waiting for the ball to drop his way. His movement across the front post has earned him several goals, and he has now developed a ruthless edge to his finishing that was lacking earlier in his career. There aren’t many forwards you would rather have in your Premier League squad than Antonio this year.
With a goal against Leicester City on Monday, Antonio will move onto 48 goals in claret and blue, one more than Di Canio, and two more than club legend Mark Noble. He’s hit 10 goals in each of his past two seasons in the Premier League despite only playing 50 games out of 77 due to injury, so if he can stay fit this term we could be looking at a record-breaking tally for the Anglo-Jamaican.
There is nobody better suited to lead the line for the Hammers, and he will be well worthy of leading their Premier League scoring charts. From right-back to playing right at the very top, Antonio has come from nowhere to be West Ham’s leading man.