Belfast Telegraph

West Ham boss Bilic praises Michail Antonio as he chases Premier League record

Slaven Bilic believes West Ham's Michail Antonio is a "great example" for aspiring young footballers as he chases a Premier League milestone against Leicester on New Year's Eve.

Antonio needs one more headed goal to eclipse the Premier League record for a calendar year held by former Everton midfielder Tim Cahill, who scored 11 during 2010.

Such an achievement would close the chapter on a breakout year for the 26-year-old, who began his career with non-league Tooting and Mitcham before going on to earn an England call-up earlier this year, following the likes of Jamie Vardy and Charlie Austin.

Bilic insists that Antonio's progression stems from his desire to improve on the training ground and that the 26-year-old deserves every accolade he has received thus far.

"I said it last year that he is a great example and a great motivation for young kids," Bilic said.

"There are other players like Jamie Vardy. He (Antonio) is brilliant. It is already a hell of an achievement (equalling the headed Premier League goals in a calendar year). He is a big player. He deserves everything and is always there to score goals.

"Every time I turn to my staff and ask who has scored a goal, they say it is always Antonio when you didn't notice.

"He is very versatile and that is why we got him. Some people ask, 'why are you putting him there and there and there?' But it's for the team. He is either playing on the side or upfront."

Antonio played a significant role in helping West Ham secure a seventh-placed finish last season and already has eight goals in the Premier League this campaign.

His ability to play in numerous positions has added a new dimension to Bilic's side and despite Antonio not favouring the wing-back role, Bilic insists that the former Nottingham Forest man is capable of playing in any position he places him.

"His best position? First I would say centre forward because he scores a goal but then again he is very good on the wing," the 48-year-old added. " If we play three at the back, he can play right wing-back especially in a team that is attacking.

"He doesn't like to play right-back but he has the ability to do it. You have to keep him close to the box when we have the ball because his stats are unbelievable.

The Hammers travel to the King Power Stadium in search of their fourth successive league win, while the defending Premier League champions have been below-par all season. Foxes manager Claudio Ranieri recently demanded improvement, particularly from the reigning PFA Player of the Year Riyad Mahrez, who was axed for their 2-0 defeat against Everton.

Ranieri's handling of one of his star players was questioned in some quarters, but Bilic believes the media have blown Ranieri's comments out of proportion.

"Today the media reacts to those kind of things," he said.

"When a manager says something about players, like criticises. For me, what Ranieri said, and what a couple of other managers have said during the season, about players, is normal.

"What did he say about Mahrez? He said only that he expects more from him because he is the player of the year. He didn't say something bad. He rates him as a player, he rates him even with this statement.

"He expects him to do better because he knows what he can do. For me, there is nothing wrong with it to be fair. Nothing. Zero."


From Belfast Telegraph