Michail Antonio, the West Ham United striker who bagged 10 goals before suffering from a left hamstring injury towards the end of the English Premier League season, was singled out by former England head coach Glenn Hoddle as a player that he would have personally selected for the Three Lions at the European Championships.
But the burly 31-year-old, who spent his career at the Hammers in midfield and at full back until manager David Moyes spotted his potential as a forward, is believed to be still waiting for his Jamaican passport to be processed.
The recently-reformed striker originally turned down approaches to represent the Reggae Boyz in 2016 but, according to Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) president Michael Ricketts, the London-born player officially requested to represent Jamaica at international level in February.
With the JFF having experienced contract problems with their more experienced players until recently, head coach Theodore Whitmore now seems pleasantly spoiled for choice with around 60 available for the Boyz as they prepare to tackle the CONCACAF Gold Cup in North America next month and September’s regional FIFA World Cup qualifiers.
Yet Tottenham Hotspur legend Hoddle, who managed England at the 1998 World Cup finals, has set the cat among the pigeons by enthusiastically speaking at a Betfair Event about Gareth Southgate’s squad selection at the Euros – which kicked off with a dogged 1-0 success over 2018 World Cup runner-up Croatia.
Hoddle claimed: “I would have perhaps had a different style of striker. Maybe an Antonio, something that might just upset things, come on in the last 10 or 15 minutes.
”Other than that I think he [Southgate] has covered most ground, I wouldn’t change too much.”
Antonio, whose goals and assists played a major part in helping guide West Ham through to European competition next season, extended his contract with the London outfit until 2023 and he is raring to go despite his age. Yet there remains a question mark over his hamstring injuries, which have been a problem since joining West Ham in 2015 and required surgery in 2017 and 2019.
Just after Antonio turned down Jamaica, he was called up for the first time by England and named in the inaugural squad by new manager Sam Allardyce. Yet he was an unused substitute in the 2018 World Cup qualifier 1-0 triumph over Slovakia.
Then he was included in Southgate’s 2017 squad to tackle Germany and face Lithuania in a World Cup qualifier, but he withdrew after picking up a hamstring injury.
Should Antonio manage to get his passport sorted, and not have his head turned by the admiration from such an esteemed iconic figure as Hoodle, who now plies his trade as a much-respected pundit, then he could be donning a golden jersey for September’s final World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica, Mexico and as yet unknown nation – although El Salvador, Panama and Canada all lead ahead of their second leg knock-out match.
Jamaica, who have only claimed two victories from their past 13 games, were ripped to shreds by Japan’s Olympic U23 team last weekend (12 June). Yet they were superb just a few days before, when they held European giants Serbia to a remarkable 1-1 draw masterminded by Whitmore.
The Boyz are set to kick-off their CONCACAF Gold Cup campaign against Suriname on 13 July, confident of making an impact at the tournament as Costa Rica, Mexico and the United States are all planning to field weakened sides.
If Whitmore can sharpen up his squad at the Gold Cup and then bring in a couple of players of the calibre of Antonio for the World Cup qualifiers, then the Boyz should be off to Qatar 2022.
The last time that Jamaica competed in the sport’s showpiece tournament was at France 1998, when defensive midfielder Whitmore finished as Jamaica’s hero with a pair of goals to stun Japan 2-1 in Lyon. The Montego Bay-born manager will be hoping that history can repeat itself, but this time his goal surely is to be celebrating from the sidelines if Jamaica target Antonio bags a brace at the next World Cup finals to emulate his feat.
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