England boss Sam Allardyce pointed to the backstory of Michail Antonio as a pivotal factor in the uncapped West Ham winger being handed a place in his maiden Three Lions squad to face Slovakia on Sunday.
The 26-year-old has started the season in impressive fashion, scoring in two of West Ham’s three Premier League matches so far, including a second-half strike against Manchester City on Sunday.
Antonio began his career at non-league Tooting & Mitcham United before stints at Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest preceded a £7m move to West Ham in 2015.
“The journey,” said Allardyce, referring to why he selected Antonio.
“The quality of the player that has shown through in every league he has played, the impact he had at the end of last season and the start of this, his attacking flair, his quality for final-third delivery and his goal record from a wide position.
“I think that that journey is something that deserves to be in this squad and me to have a look at as a potential player going forward. It shows how much it means if you’ve got guts, determination and desire.
“He goes forward and creates himself a career in the Premier League, and then ends up here in this squad. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
Whether Antonio makes his international debut for England when they open their World Cup qualification campaign in Trnava remains to be seen, but one player who definitely will not feature is Everton midfielder Ross Barkley.
The 22-year-old was selected by predecessor Roy Hodgson for Euro 2016 but axed by Allardyce despite a bright start to the campaign. The former Bolton, Newcastle and Blackburn manager stands by his decision.
“It’s been a well thought-out squad, we have been in deep discussions and had to make some very difficult decisions, none more so than Ross Barkley,” added Allardyce. “The door is always open for Ross but at this moment I felt the squad I picked is right.”
Allardyce will confirm his England skipper on tuesday, while current captain Wayne Rooney is set to be utilised in a more advanced position than under Hodgson, irrespective of his listing as a midfielder when the squad was announced.
“Should we say attacking midfielder or striker? Wayne’s position has changed at Manchester United and that’s the sort of position I am looking for him to play in,” said Allardyce.