A few months back, the story of Jamie Vardy’s meteoric rise from non-league football with lowly Stocksbridge Park Streets to the top of the Premier League with Leicester City was all over the headlines.
Vardy’s spectacular rise to prominence was seen as a story of resilience and inspiration for all budding footballers. Similar has been the storyline for West Ham’s Michail Antonio, who like his compatriot Vardy, has risen through the ranks from non-league football to becoming a regular at Upton Park this season.
Not so long ago, Antonio was playing for a seventh division team called Toothing and Mitcham United. He joined Reading in the summer of 2008 but failed to land a starting place at the club and was loaned back to former club Toothing and Mitcham United after making only a solitary appearance for The Royals.
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After that brief spell at lowly Toothing, the winger was then loaned off to League One side Cheltenham Town in the summer of 2009. Antonio failed to get going at Cheltenham due to an injury and was subsequently loaned off to Southampton the same year. The Saints were languishing in the third tier of English football back then, and Antonio played an important role in rebuilding the club and helping their push for back-to-back promotions in the years to follow.
The winger played 28 games for the club and managed to score thrice, but it was his overall commitment and desire during games that urged Southampton’s then-manager Alan Pardew to extend his loan spell.
However, Reading refused the offer as they had spotted his potential and wanted to keep him at the Madejski stadium. The winger played regularly for Reading in the 2010-11 season, making 24 appearances in all and scored a brilliant goal against Burnley. Antonio, however, couldn't sustain his first team spot for long and was sent off on loan spells to Colchester United and Sheffield Wednesday in quick succession.
These loan spells were extremely beneficial for the Englishman as he hit a purple patch in his career and managed to score an impressive 9 goals in 29 appearances for both clubs cumulatively.
Sheffield Wednesday were so impressed by his performances that they made the loan move permanent. The 25-year-old was a regular for Wednesday in the 2012-13 season and chipped in with some important goals for the club as they finished a decent 18th position in their first season in the Championship.
The following year, Antonio struggled with injuries and couldn't keep up the pace, and was eventually sold off to former European champions Nottingham Forest.
Signing with Forest was a new lease of life for the winger as he managed a healthy average of scoring in almost every three appearances for the club. Antonio spent a solitary year at Nottingham Forest before Slaven Bilic and West Ham came calling. With so many star midfielders like Dimitri Payet, Victor Moses and Manuel Lanzini already at the club, Michail Antonio has had to wait for his turn.
After two appearances from the bench, the winger made his first start for West Ham on December 12, 2015, against Stoke City. Although the game ended goalless, Antonio impressed on debut and managed to cement his place in the starting line-up for the Hammers.
The 25-year-old has started the last eight league games for the club and has contributed heavily to their spectacular campaign so far, netting in crucial goals against Southampton and Liverpool. Antonio also provided the assist for Enner Valencia’s second goal in their 2-2 draw against title chasers Manchester City last week.
Signed for only seven million, West Ham have got a great player in Michail Antonio. His pace and resilience have worked wonders for the London club this season and they would hope to keep hold of the player for as long as they can.
More importantly, signing for West Ham would have been a moment to savour for Michail Antonio, who has made the stellar rise from non-league football to the Premier League in the span of a few years and is now fully making the most of it.