‘We’ve got Payet’ is a song which seems to be going around a lot at Upton Park this season. Even in games where Payet seems to be anonymous, that chant to the tune of Billy Ray Cyrus’ 1991 hit “Achy Breaky Heart” rings around the stadium.
Even West Ham’s official Twitter feed is behind the idea that Payet seems to be the only player who dons the famous Claret and Blue. He has deservedly got all the plaudits this season and he has been the best player, but someone seems to be going through unnoticed.
Michail Antonio was extremely patient in trying to get into the starting XI for West Ham. Up until December, he had only made a couple of cameo appearances, which led to a running joke among West Ham fans in saying that he doesn’t exist or he’s actually a hologram only visible by rays from the moon. Even co-chairman David Gold retweeted a picture of Antonio after someone said that it was their missing uncle. But after Victor Moses’ injury against Manchester United in December, the wait for his break was over.
The first few games were a little bit slow as he tried to settle into the Premier League, but his breakthrough performance came in the last game of 2015 against his former side Southampton. He scored his first goal, a fluke goal in which he was fouled and then a Victor Wanyama clearance hit his arm and then looped over the goalkeeper, and then his header was rebounded in by Andy Carroll to make it 2-1. Since then he has scored another 5 and does not seem to be slowing down.
This recent form surely should be noticed by people outside of West Ham but that isn’t really the case. West Ham are belatedly starting to get noticed by people and Bilic is getting praised instead of people still thinking we are getting relegated because we got rid of Sam Allardyce.
However on the pitch, Antonio is disregarded. Payet is getting the praise that he deserves, but some people still only know Antonio as the guy who did the Homer Simpson celebration once. Even his £7million deadline day signing from Nottingham Forest slipped under the radar due to it not being as glamorous as Anthony Martial signing for Man United for £50million. But recent performances suggest that it is now time to start taking the former Tooting & Mitcham star seriously.
Antonio is the complete package on the right-hand side: He is ambidextrous, quick, strong and knows how to score. He is currently on a run of 3 consecutive games scored (watch out Jamie Vardy). Standing at a modest 5ft 11 and a stocky build, he can use his head just as efficiently as Andy Carroll as he has only scored one with his feet.
Not only does he have the attacking side of the game down quite well, he is actually an impressive right back. His all-round defensive and midfield attributes were epitomised in the league game against Liverpool – for which he was deployed as a winger – where he made a vital slide tackle near his own goal and then ran 100 yards to head in the opening goal 19 seconds later.
In that FA Cup game, Joey O’Brien got injured just before extra time and with Tomkins injured and Byram cup-tied, in he stepped for the remaining half an hour, where he was composed and kept Daniel Sturridge quiet. For the same reasons as previously stated, he had to start as a right back against Blackburn, where he probably did a better job than the other 3 could as the Hammers ran amok. In the absence of the suspended Byram, Antonio has played as a wing-back against Everton and Spurs and has scored in both games, proving that he is far more than a one-trick pony.
So although Payet has been grabbing headlines, awards and chants left, right and centre, it seems that Antonio’s role has been understated by those outside of West Ham. Perhaps as his form continues, people will know him less as the guy who does eccentric dances when he scores and has an alright silver card on FIFA, and more as the guy who will lead England to glory at Euro 2016.
This article is dedicated to Michail Antonio’s Mum, who blocked her son’s move to Tottenham as a 14-year-old claiming it would get in the way of his studies. Thank you Mrs. Antonio!