It has been the ultimate fairytale story for Michail Antonio after making his way from from non-league football and becoming one of the big stars in the Premier League.
It was not that long ago Antonio was playing for Tooting and Mitcham and was earning extra money as a lifeguard.
But he has now become a fans favourite at West Ham United and is one of the first names on Slaven Bilic’s team-sheet following his incredible journey since joining the east London club back in September 2015.
The 27-year-old enjoyed a memorable first season in the top flight when he scored nine goals and got on the scoresheet against Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester United.
Antonio dominated a number of headlines with his memorable goal celebrations including the Homer Simpson turn and the Carlton Banks dance from the popular Fresh Prince of Bel Air sitcom.
The talented forward continued his impressive form last season and wrote his name into the record books after becoming the first ever Premier League scorer at London Stadium when he scored the winning goal against Bournemouth.
Antonio’s performances did not go unnoticed and he earned his first call-up to the England squad last year for the World Cup qualifier against Slovakia but failed to make an appearance under former manager Sam Allardyce.
He was also called into Gareth Southgate’s squad back in March for the games against Germany and Lithuania, but was forced to pull out with a hamstring injury.
The Hammers star is now working his way back to full fitness through the summer and with the World Cup taking place in Russia next summer, Antonio would love to represent his country in one of the biggest tournaments in world football.
Q: Michail, how disappointing was it for you to withdraw from the England squad back in March?
A: “The first injury in March probably cost me an England debut, which was a massive disappointment. When I got the call-up I actually said to myself: ‘Just don’t get injured!’
“Especially with it being against Germany, it was a big game and I was so happy when Gareth Southgate named me in the squad. I did watch the game, although it was a bit painful. Virtually everyone on the bench got on, so the chances are it would have been my first cap.
“But it was just one of those things, part and parcel of the game, and I prefer not to look back – just look forward and if I keep working hard and playing well, I will have more opportunities.”
Q: Have you spoken to Gareth Southgate and what has he told you about the future for England?
A: “Gareth Southgate did call me at the time, saying he was sorry to hear about the injury, but told me to keep doing what I was doing and I would be in his plans.
“That really gave me a push to work hard and make sure I get back fit.”
Q: You must be thrilled to have made it into two different England squads and must be targeting a recall next season?
A” It’s pleasing to know that I have now been called up by two England managers, and hopefully it shows that it wasn’t a fluke to get into Sam Allardyce’s squad at the start of last season.
“That was definitely one of the proudest moments of my career. As a child growing up, watching England, it was one of those things you always wanted to be involved in.”
Q: How important is it that you don’t get carried away with the prospect of playing in a major World Cup tournament next summer?
A: “The World Cup next year isn’t in my mind. I don’t really pay attention to the long-term, I take short steps – that is what I have done through my whole career, from non-league to the Premier League.
“You’ve got to take each step as it comes – you can’t think about 20 steps away because it will distract you and trip you up.
“Of course I want to get into the England World Cup team, especially having been so close, but I’m not going to be concentrating on it or let it be at the front of my mind. I have to play games and do well for West Ham – that is my focus.”
Q: What are your hopes for West Ham next season?
A: “I am so determined to have a great season, especially after the injury. My target at the start of last season was to improve and score more goals than I had the previous year. And I ended up getting the same number, nine.
“I could blame the injury and say I would have beaten it, but that’s not how I think. All I think is: ‘I didn’t reach my target.’
“So next season, I want to reach it. I want to get to that mark as soon as possible so that I can make it higher, keep pushing myself and keep getting better.”
Q: How proud were you to be named Hammer of the Year last season and can you perform to an even higher standard next season after signing a new deal back in May?
A: “It’s the greatest honour from the fans. I was speechless, to be honest.
“I had been runner-up to Dimitri Payet the previous season, so to then go on and win the award shows the progress I have made.
“And I don’t want to step back – I want to keep pushing and hopefully do enough to win it again next season.”
West Ham United’s new home kit was launched earlier this week, and is available to pre-order now in Club Stores or online at officialwesthamstore.com.