Michail Antonio fully deserves to be West Ham’s all-time leading Premier League goalscorer after netting his 48th and 49th for the club, surpassing Paolo Di Canio’s old record.
Having already been an attacking driving force in the early stages against Leicester on Monday night and then creating his team’s second goal of the game by intercepting a back-pass and teeing up Said Benrahma, Antonio showed true ‘number nine’ instincts to score two goals of his own.
Getting the record was clearly on his mind before the game as there were pre-emptive discussion about a celebration that involved a cardboard cut-out of himself. If anything, he may have been trying a little too hard in the first half, but he relaxed after the interval and was then unplayable.
This has been coming for some time. Antonio was a winger when he first arrived at West Ham from Nottingham Forest in 2015 and was later repurposed as a right-back.
He then became known as the ultimate utility player and was playing all over the pitch, including some games up front, as recently as the 2018/19 season. But it was during ‘Project Restart’ in the summer of 2020 that the permanent switch to a ‘number nine’ role came.
Antonio had a prolific end to that season, including four goals in one game against Norwich, and has worked on his game to polish himself as a proper striker.
Injuries limited him to 24 starts last season but he still scored 10 goals and provided a further five assists. The progress is there to see because with three goals to start this season, Antonio has now been directly involved with 29 West Ham goals in his last 34 Premier League starts.
No West Ham player has ever scored more goals in the Premier League than Antonio, whose journey to this stage began not at an elite academy, but in non-league with Tooting & Mitcham United.
At 31 and only really 18 months at most into the role where he has finally settled, Antonio is arguably a classic case of late bloomer. What is certain is that Hammers will enjoy watching him this season as he continues on this incredible adventure.