West Ham United star Michail Antonio must ram Jermain Defoe’s words back down his throat at Frankfurt tonight.
The stage is set for an epic night in West Ham’s history as the Hammers look to overturn a 2-1 deficit against Eintracht Frankfurt in a bid to make the Europa League final.
And striker Antonio is West Ham’s history maker.
Whether it is scoring in the last game at Upton Park or the first goal at the London Stadium. Being the first opposition player to score at Tottenham’s stadium or becoming West Ham’s record Premier League goal scorer.
When the big games come along for West Ham, more often than not, Antonio steps up.
Matches against Sevilla and Lyon in the previous knockout rounds are proof Antonio can produce his best performances when it matters most.
But 2022 has been tough for the man David Moyes converted from an inconsistent winger to West Ham’s number nine.
Antonio has scored just one Premier League goal this year – on New Year’s Day.
Although he got back on the goal trail in the first leg of West Ham’s Europa League semi-final against Frankfurt, his performances of late have been Jekyll and Hyde at best.
Moyes has tried both carrot and stick to get Antonio firing again. The Scot has both publicly backed and criticised Antonio following poor performances and amid questions over his lack of goals.
After the defeat to Arsenal at the weekend, an agitated Moyes told reporters West Ham were better before he brought the striker on as a substitute.
Then ahead of tonight’s huge match, Moyes called on Antonio to be at his goalscoring best when West Ham need him most.
After that Arsenal game, comments from one ex West Ham striker would surely have rankled with Antonio.
Because speaking on Sky Sports after West Ham’s defeat to the Gunners, Jermain Defoe questioned Antonio’s appetite and desire.
It is one thing criticising a player’s quality, ability or form. But for a former professional – and an ex Hammer at that – to question whether Antonio still has the ‘fire inside’ would have hit a nerve.
At least it certainly should have.
“You need players to put in big performances, especially at this stage of the season,” Defoe said when speaking about Antonio on Sky Sports.
“Antonio, beginning of the season he was getting goals and he went through that period where he hadn’t scored in I don’t know how many games – probably 11 games or so, maybe more – and he came on tonight (and didn’t make an impact).
“The manager looks disappointed that he’s not actually come on and made an impact.
“He should be coming on – especially when you haven’t scored (for a long time in the Premier League). He should be hungry or have that fire inside you that you want to come on and show the manager that maybe you know ‘I should have been starting today’.
“Yea of course he’ll probably start on Thursday – but at the same time you want to get back on track as a forward and try and nick a goal and take that into Thursday and the rest of the season, because the rest of the season is so important.”
Defoe is right Moyes will start the striker in the semi-final second leg regardless.
And West Ham star Antonio must make sure he rams Defoe’s words back down his throat at Frankfurt.
Show Defoe and his other doubters they are wrong and he still has the fire.
As a footballer it is the best and only way to answer your critics.