Michail Antonio has fought off competition from more experienced, more expensive competition to become West Ham’s star striker – and told Sky Sports how he did it.
After missing much of November and December due to injury, Antonio has returned to form fast to help West Ham up to fifth in the Premier League table, having battled against relegation last term.
The 30-year-old netted the winners in their recent victories over Burnley and West Brom before missing a hat-full of chances to add to his collection during their win over Crystal Palace in midweek. He has the chance to get back to form as West Ham host Liverpool live on Super Sunday on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm; kick-off at 4.30pm.
Big-money signing Sebastien Haller came to east London to provide competition to Antonio last season but has since departed having netted 10 times in 48 appearances, with the ex-Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest winger-turned-forward Antonio still ruling the roost at the London Stadium.
Despite that, Antonio still doesn’t naturally think of himself as a striker.
He told Sky Sports: “You can’t see yourself anything different now – because that’s the position I’m going to be playing in the next three games.
“I want my shirt and in the positions I’ve shown before, I’ve played right-back, I played left-back, left wing-back, right wing-back – it’s all as long as I’ve got that shirt. I want to be playing and I want to be playing well for the team so I’m getting an opportunity.
“They gave me an opportunity now to play up front, and I’m doing the job so I’m keeping my shirt.”
Antonio has played in several different roles in his career to date, but centre forward was far from his favourite.
He said: “I hated it at first. When you’re playing and you’ve got your back to play, they come through the back of you. The Premier League is a physical game so you’ve got to be able to take that hit, and then control the ball, and then find the pass.
“So it’s those type of things that you’ve got to work on, and be more resilient. In training, I go to Angelo [Ogbonna], and I say: ‘We’re fighting today’. And I’m going to be pinning him the whole entire training session. Angelo loves it.
“The majority of the time having first touches, when the ball comes to you, you’re normally free so you’ve got time to control, but as a centre forward, you’ve got to be able to ride it. You’ve got to tense your body, but then have your foot be soft enough to control the ball, as well.
“That’s difficult enough. There were parts of the game I struggled with at first, but I’m now getting used to it.”
One thing all good strikers need is confidence. It’s certainly something Antonio doesn’t struggle with.
What’s next for the reluctant forward, who still harbours hopes of reaching Gareth Southgate’s Euro 2020 squad?
“Sunday, hat-trick. For all the opportunities I missed on Tuesday,” he says with a smile.
“It would be amazing. I’ve been in and around the squad before, I know how it feels. I feel right now Gareth is going young, which is right to be fair because he’s trying to build a nice squad for years to come.
“If he calls me, I’d be buzzing, if he doesn’t I’d understand. I’m focusing on the club football, because that brings the attention.”
Watch West Ham vs Liverpool live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm