West Ham have rightly received many plaudits this season after humbling more fancied opposition on numerous occasions and remaining in the hunt for a top four finish going into the final couple of months of the campaign. Dimitri Payet has been seen as the catalyst for their stunning form but in recent weeks Michail Antonio has really come to the fore and is looking like a very shrewd signing.
His arrival from Nottingham Forest for £7 million on deadline day of last summer’s transfer window didn’t exactly go unnoticed but nor did it particularly grab headlines. The fee was modest enough in this day and age and the fact the Hammers waited until the last minute to complete the signing suggested it was more a move to bolster the squad than immediately improve the first team.
There is always a risk when players with no top flight experience are bought from the Championship but there have been countless examples in recent times of how lower league players have stepped up to the top flight and flourished in it.
Non-league beginnings and main assets
Antonio is another who had started out in the non-league at Tooting & Mitcham United before attracting the attention of Reading, where he never really made the grade as a teenager. Impressive two-year spells at Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest followed though and meant he was always likely to be the subject of Premier League interest at some point particularly after he netted 15 times for the East Midlands outfit last season.
West Ham made their move and although Antonio had to be patient with the likes of Manuel Lanzini and Victor Moses initially preferred in the wide berths, he has more than made his mark and is now one of the first names on the team sheet.
One of his main assets has always been his ability to score goals from a wide position rather than as a more creative player and given West Ham’s struggles for goals from their central striker, that has proved invaluable in recent weeks. Antonio has netted 5 goals in his last 9 appearances for the Hammers and they have been crucial goals too that have really kept the club in the fight for the top four.
He netted the only goal in 1-0 wins over Tottenham and Sunderland having broken the deadlock in victories over Aston Villa and Liverpool in the FA Cup. He also scored his side’s first goal at Goodison Park that sparked a stunning late comeback as West Ham beat Everton 3-2 with 3 goals in the last 12 minutes.
With the form he is in, Antonio may even be playing himself into England reckoning with the European Championships now just three months away, especially given the likes of Raheem Sterling, Andros Townsend and Danny Welbeck are not having great seasons.
Either way, he has surely been one of the signings of the season and at 25 years old could be a key player for West Ham for many years.
Written by Mark Sochon
Follow Mark on Twitter @tikitakagol
Check out his brilliant blog on all things La Liga, Tiki-Taka-Gol!
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