West Ham's Antonio looks for even more success in new season
PUBLISHED: 21:16 12 August 2016
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But Hammers wideman is revealing about that right-back role
Michail Antonio was one of the great success stories of last season for West Ham.
It was an inauspicious start following his £7million move from Nottingham Forest as he had to wait his turn to get into the team, but once he did, there was no stopping him.
A total of 32 appearances and nine goals made it a superb campaign for the Londoner, especially as he was playing as a stand-in right-back for much of the season.
The 26-year-old Antonio is likely to be a vital member of the squad again this term and he has a clear aim for the new campaign, saying: “My plan is always to do better than the previous season. I never want to match what I did previously, I always want to get better and push forward in everything I do.”
Pushing forward is something that Antonio loves to do, even as a full-back, and that can cause a few problems as it did with an indifferent display in Slovenia.
Last season it was Victor Moses who kept him out of his preferred right wing slot, this time around the permanent signing of Sofiane Feghouli may leave him with little chance but to play in defence again.
So what does he think about playing there again? He laughs and there is a long hesitation, before he is prompted a little by the West Ham media team.
“I am happy to play in any position if it helps the team,” he says eventually, but his hesitation has already spoken volumes.
Speak to his boss Slaven Bilic, though, and it seems that Antonio may well have to stick it out at full-back.
“People should look at what he brings us and what are the deficits,” said Bilic following Thursday’s Europa League win over NK Domzale.
“He did a great job last year considering we were not planning to play him there. He came in when Joey O’Brien got injured and he did well and so we played him there and some of the things he did was unbelievable for us.”
It certainly was. Consecutive goals against Sunderland, Spurs and Everton helped the team to three wins on the trot, while he was also on target in the final two games against Manchester United and Stoke City – all but the first of those strikes came as a right-back.
“Occasionally he does make mistakes as many full-backs do, but for me he has everything to make a great career in this position,” said Bilic.
“We will make a combination between this position and right wing, but it depends a lot on him, but also what we need in a particular game.
“Can he play both? Definitely he can and he showed that last year. In Slovenia, it wasn’t down to the position, but the approach.”
That seems to have settled that and Antonio did manage to get backwards and forward on Thursday to help the team, even playing a part in one of the goals.
So how did Antonio enjoy the atmosphere at the London Stadium? The big smile appears again and he added: “The crowd had moments when it was loud and you could feel the vibe.
“We came on to the pitch and you notice that the crowd were further away, but there were moments when you can feel the crowd pushing us on, so hopefully those moments can become more constant during the game.”
The pitch at the new stadium is much bigger than at Upton Park, so will that help the wideman?
“The pitch was beautiful, it was definitely up there with one of the best I have played on and it will be a big positive because we like to get it down and play.
“We have to get used to the size as well. I remember there were times out there when I thought I was on the touchline and I have looked back and there are still three or four yards behind me,” he laughed.
It seems like, whatever position he plays in, Antonio will play a vital role this season.
So where does he think the club can finish this season? He has no hesitation this time.
“We are going for the top six,” he said.
Now that would be nice.