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'Ragged and Raw' Michail Antonio never gave up hope of England call

Published 30/08/2016

Michail Antonio will be hoping to make his England debut against Slovakia on Sunday.
Michail Antonio will be hoping to make his England debut against Slovakia on Sunday.

England newcomer Michail Antonio accepts he is "ragged" and "raw" but believes he can follow in the footsteps of other rough diamonds like Jamie Vardy and Ian Wright.

The West Ham winger is the only uncapped player in Sam Allardyce's first squad, completing a remarkable rise from non-league Tooting and Mitcham to the international arena.

Antonio, 26, might have been in the professional system since signing for Reading eight years ago, and in the Premier League for the past 12 months, but it is not just his football that is delightfully unreconstructed.

In his first media appearance in Three Lions colours he spoke unguardedly about having posters of "fat Ronaldo" as a child and smiled when he talked about avoiding "crazy touch and go" moments during his upbringing.

But mostly he talks about football, and his passion for it.

Like Wright and Vardy before him Antonio knows what it is like to plug away at the bottom of the ladder, having to fight for his place in Tooting's first-team as a teenager and working part-time as a lifeguard before progressing through the divisions.

But he feels his experiences have made him the man he is today and contributed to his hungry, direct style.

"I'm not that academy player who's going to pick it up, pass it and be neat and tidy all the time. I'm a player who's going to get it and I'm going to run at the full-back," he said.

"I'm going to be running in behind. I'm quite ragged. People say raw and some people don't like raw.

"I see academy players who pick it up and they like to pop it off and they make more movements. They do more work off the ball, where I do more work on it.

"The way I play, some managers are going to like me, some managers are not going to like me."

Allardyce, it seems, falls firmly into the former camp.

In calling Antonio into the squad, he not only elevated him above the dropped Ross Barkley and Jack Wilshere, but also confirmed the Londoner was right not to accept the advances of Jamaica earlier this year.

"One of the reasons why I turned down Jamaica because I thought 'I'm not too old'," he said.

"In March, they said they wanted me to come and play for them but I said I feel like I could possibly get into the England set-up. It was one of those sort of things where it was more like hope more than believing I would do it. Now, I am here.

"Jamie Vardy was a person who I thought - he's come through everything I have done and he's been called up at 28. Rickie Lambert...age of 30 when he got his first cap. Ian Wright. He came through non-league and I think he turned professional when he was 23 and was called up for England when he was 26.

"All these people were at the back of mind and I was thinking - if these guys can do it then why can't I?

"I have only cried once - when I had my baby boy, the first time - and I nearly cried when I found out I had been called up.

"Where I grew up kids were quite bad and people wouldn't really have expected for me to go from there to where I am now. I always believe that people need to strive and push forward and keep going for your dreams and never give up.

"Don't ever feel like you can't do it. It's all doable. Just look at my path, look at where I've come."

Antonio has a motto inscribed on the inside of his left arm that reads 'I came to this world with nothing, so anything I leave with is a profit'. H aving been handed the chance to become part of the Allardyce's England era, he now looks likely to finish well in the black.

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