‘Call him gun-shot Mike, or Mr Skeng,
Quick one-two get skitzed again ‘
Dropping the shoulder quicker than Stormzy drops a bar, Michail Antonio is having a lovely time. A player who for so long has had to play a myriad of positions (remember wing-back Antonio, under Bilic), never really finding his home, has at last, found a place to call just that. If Antonio is Piglet in search of a new home after ‘The Blustery Day’ episode then I guess that makes David Moyes, Winnie the Pooh.
Since the post Covid-19 restart, Antonio has started every match for West Ham, only being substituted once. That came after 78 minutes, against Newcastle on the weekend, after scoring all four. In any other season, this would have been a moment where Hammers fans would have clapped and sung his name as he trapsied off the pitch, his bag full to the brim, but these are strange times, and one hopes Antonio gets another moment such as this in the future, when bums are on seats and voices crow long into the night. If this moment is only brief, then Antonio is a most deserving suitor, for his humility and intelligence is often on show whenever interviewed.
‘I think I just got dissed again,
Think I care who this offends,
Run up on man like Bale with a –
Slap that thru your shit defence.’
Moyes appears to have settled on Antonio as his chosen No 9, and his trust has been rewarded as the forward’s strong link-up play with players like Fornals, Yarmolenko and Bowen has seen West Ham pull six points clear of the relegation zone, and no-one is in any doubt of who has dragged that team towards safety. With quick balls into his feet or head, Antonio is proving that he has a number of different ways to ask questions of the opposition and is happy to slap the ball right through the porous defences that litter the Premier League.
Whereas many of forwards at the London clubs are struggling to find their form, Antonio has seized the mic and dropped bars of gold, firing off 13 shots on target in his 6 games back and claiming 6 goals (8 for the season). His range of goals showcase his flexibility as a forward and an indication of why he is so difficult to defend against.
Just check his pass for the Yarmolenko winner against Chelsea. This is something that football fans are used to seeing Harry Kane (once) do, but Antonio has proved adept at knowing when to drop deep and allow his wide players to overlap. The relationship between him and Pablo Fornals has played a huge part in creating the volume of goal-scoring opportunities from open play. Their interplay for West Ham’s opening goal against Newcastle showcased their growing understanding as they combined beautifully to cut through the Magpies’ midfield.
I do rap, then I do grime, then I do rap
Then I sing, then I roll right back
They said you ain’t gonna blow like that
Whos gives a fuck? You know, like that?
If Michail Antonio wanted, he could have taken all those times of being played in the many positions he has, as a negative.
(These are, CM/DM/RWB/RW/LW/CF/CAM).
He could have let it weigh heavy, maybe down tools, maybe drop down a league and bully-boy his way around the Championship. Instead, he has distilled all those skills amassed from a career spent often in both wide positions, sometimes as a wingback in a 3-5-2, or operating higher as a winger or wide forward, and is now wielding them to his power. His London striking compatriots are currently down the pecking order when it comes to bragging rights in the Big Smoke, as his versatility appears to be paying off when it comes to goal involvement in matches.
Seeing Antonio’s renaissance draws thoughts of another wide forward, catapulted into the central striker role in Naples under the tutelage of the ever cigarette chuffing Mauricio Sarri. It was October 2016 when Sarri came upon the ingenious idea, driven perhaps by the injury to Arkadiusz Milik and the uncertainty over Manolo Gabbiandi, to give Dries Mertens the No.9 role at Napoli. Sarri brought him in from his wide-left position to play the central striker role, supported by Insigne, Callejon and Hamsik from midfield. It finally clicked 3 months later as Mertens would bag 8 goals in 3 games in the December period. It’s fair to say that, with 89 goals in all competitions since the 2016/2017 season, Mertens has been a revelation in his new role, becoming Napoli’s all time goalscorer this season with an insane 122 goals.
Antonio is 30, which is pretty much the same age that Mertens was when he found his calling (banging in goals and therefore gives hope that in a settled environment the ex-Forest forward can put down roots and perhaps add to his modest career tally of 75 goals and 50 assists.
For the moment, he is lord of the yard, let’s see if he can be lord of the mics.