It was the news that was expected all through the transfer window, but Nottingham Forest star man Michail Antoio departed Trentside for West Ham United in a £7m fee.
The writing had been on the wall when the powerful winger was withdrawn from the squad to face Charlton Athletic due to ‘not being in the right frame of mind’, but there was still a tinge of sadness when the move was finalised on deadline day.
Credit has to go to Antonio in some form, as despite seemingly throwing his toys out the pram – it’s worth noting we haven’t heard his side of the story yet – in the subsequent two games after the Charlton match, Antonio scored in one and looked menacing in the other.
His departure leaves a big gap to fill, as Antonio directly contributed to 29 goals in his 50 league appearances for Forest – notching 16 goals and 13 assists, made even more impressive due to the fact he was playing down the left wing.
There was also the fear factor. Clubs would put two men on Antonio in the hope of shackling him and, for a while, it seemed as if the opposition’s theory would be ‘stop Antonio, stop Forest’ – not that this tactic worked all the time however, as against Rotherham United last season, there were no less than four men assigned with man marking him whenever he got the ball…and he still scored.
Antonio departs having given us as fans some truly fantastic memories – memories we perhaps thought we wouldn’t experience in the second division. His goal against Fulham in the 5-3 win for example, as a standard Stuart Pearce side long ball came flying through the air only for Antonio – with a man pushing behind him – to take it down and turn his man at the same time, ala Dennis Bergkamp, before slotting it in the far corner.
Then there was his goal against Bolton Wanderers in a 4-1 win, as he took the ball from the halfway line, ran past five players before walloping it past the keeper. These Stan Collymore impressions were regular occurrences, as he did similar against Rotherham and Charlton – in particular the Rotherham one, where he ran from deep inside his own half past a host of Millers players, before letting fly from 25 yards.
There were further long range missiles as exhibited against Blackburn Rovers and Brentford, while his calmly executed finish in the 93rd minute against Norwich City amidst a lot of pressure to give Forest a 2-1 lead sent the home support into raptures.
Make no mistake about it, Forest will miss Antonio. Seven million perhaps represents fair value in the transfer market, and West Ham will feel they may have even got a bargain. If Jamie Vardy can make the England squad, then should Antonio replicate just some of his form for Forest in the league above, then maybe he’ll get a call up too.
Life goes on however, and Forest have made several signings since to compensate – hopefully not ‘doing a Spurs or Liverpool’ in the process. Ryan Mendes from Lille, Jonathan Williams from Crystal Palace, Nelson Oliveira from Benfica, and Chris O’Grady from Brighton have all joined the club on loan, while rumours of signing former Inter Milan and Italian international Ezequiel Schelotto on a free won’t go away either.
There will no doubt be a change in gameplan, as before the tactic was get it to Antonio and go from there – but maybe now Forest will play as more of a team now, rather than relying on individual brilliance.
I personally have every faith in Dougie Freedman’s managerial abilities, and I can see how a change of style can benefit the club, while also allowing promising youngsters like Tyler Walker, Oliver Burke and Jorge Grant to grow.
The City Ground will be a less exciting place to visit for supporters though – for the meantime at least – as Antonio completes his path from non-league to Premier League.
Best of luck, Michail. You’ve deserved your chance, and thanks again for the memories.