Michail Antonio: West Ham can push for Europe with summer signings
West Ham United midfielder Michail Antonio is an example of a player that is becoming increasingly rare in the Premier League: a late bloomer.
Having spent his formative years at non- and lower-league level, the versatile winger finally got his chance in the top flight with West Ham United in 2015 and hasn't looked back.
Since Antonio's £7 million move from Nottingham Forest, he has scored 17 goals in 52 Premier League starts. And, after rejecting a call-up from Jamaica, he has been called up to the England squad.
While injury has brought his season to a premature end, Antonio is looking forward to next season and he spoke to ESPN FC at an Umbro event about West Ham's future prospects, his international ambitions and how he is still learning as a player.
ESPN FC: What is the timetable for your recovery?
Michail Antonio: "I am looking to be back around July, basically getting ready for beginning of next season. I'm hoping to be involved in the majority of preseason training. I might miss the first week, but I'll hopefully be back for the rest of it."
FC: Which position do you prefer to play in?
MA: "I'm an attacking player -- I prefer left wing, right wing. They're quite even for me. But I am a team player and don't mind playing in other positions but, if I had to choose, it would be left or right."
FC: How important is versatility in modern game?
MA: "It's very important; this day and age, the Premier League, football comes at you fast and that takes its toll on players' bodies. I'm injured right now. It's good to have the option to have someone else who can come in and play in different positions."
FC: Has playing full-back helped you as winger?
MA: "Definitely. When people run at me, I see what I don't like for myself. When I'm running at people I understand now what full-backs don't like and what they do like."
FC: Your England call-up came at a fairly late age (26). Is that something that can help inspire other players, showing the door is not closed?
MA: "Definitely. I got signed at a very late age and had to work my way up through the leagues and get opportunities where I can be chosen [for England]. I've always believed the door is never closed and have had past experience with Ian Wright and Rickie Lambert, who got a call-up at the age of 30, so I have always had that belief that the door is never closed."
FC: What was your reaction to Sam Allardyce getting sacked?
MA: "It was very surprising, with all the stories that came from it. But there's always surprises that happen and you have to live with them and move on. In football, managers get sacked, teams lose players. You just have to get on with it and keep being professional."
FC: Did it affect your England chances?
MA: "Not at all; I was called up to Gareth Southgate's first England camp and have been playing games. I'm not going to be involved in the summer because of the injury, but hopefully next season I can be called up again."
FC: Players like you and Jamie Vardy have been in the lower leagues. How does it benefit you when you get to the Premier League?
MA: "We have a 'never say die' attitude. We have belief in ourselves because we finally managed to get there, and we believe that we can always push on."
FC: Is there a difference between players who have always been in the Premier League and those who have had to fight it out in the lower leagues?
MA: "Players that come from non-league don't ever want to go back there, so they have more fight in them to make sure they don't go back to the 9-5 life and build up a strong career."
FC: You turned down a chance to play for Jamaica. Is that a decision you would ever look to change your mind on if you don't become a regular with England?
MA: "I believe in my ability, and I believe I can become a regular for England. I've never really had a step back to think about that. Hopefully I will keep playing the way I play and keep getting called up."
FC: How has West Ham manager Slaven Bilic improved your game?
MA: "Massively. He has given me the opportunity to play games and given me the freedom to do what I do on the pitch. I need that freedom; I pop up in lots of different positions and he has given me freedom to do that."
FC: What do West Ham need to do to fight for Europe next season?
MA: "We need to sign a couple of players -- a right-back, one more centre-half, two strikers -- and get more goals. If we can do that, we will be up there for European places."
FC: Which is the best team you have faced in the league?
MA: "I'm going to have to say Man City. We played them twice [at the London Stadium], and I think they got more than four in both games [5-0 in the FA Cup third round, 4-0 in the Premier League]. It shows the quality they have and the individuals they have, but they haven't been doing it consistently this year. But the team they have and the way they play is frightening."
FC: Do you prefer watching Real Madrid or Barcelona?
MA: "I prefer watching Barcelona because the football they play is beautiful."
FC: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
MA: "It used to be Ronaldo, but now it's Messi. His all-round play... the amount of assists he gets, the amount of goals he gets -- he's better for a team."
FC: You've had some creative goal celebrations. Do you have your ideas beforehand or is it spur of the moment?
MA: "I always think of them beforehand. The night before, I rack my brain about the next celebration. So there is always good planning and I also ask the fans to send me ideas on Twitter. My teammates think they are crazy and don't have a clue why I'm doing it. But I'm enjoying my football, and that comes out in my celebrations. I have some more ideas -- but I'm not going to share them."
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