West Ham: Michail Antonio hoped to get injured after losing love for football, but therapy saved career

West Ham: Michail Antonio hoped to get injured after losing love for football, but therapy saved career

Michail Antonio has revealed that he fell out of love with football to such an extent that he didn’t celebrate winning a trophy with West Ham - and hoped to get injured just so he could get away from the game.

The 34–year-old told the High Performance podcast that his recent divorce and a lack of breaks from the game worsened his mental health, and he had to seek out therapy to begin enjoying playing football again.

Antonio’s mental health was so strained he was unable to celebrate the Hammers’ historic Europa Conference League win last June with his teammates, and instead chose to sleep in the team hotel.

“I was going through my divorce and stuff, and I honestly couldn't get my head around it,” Antonio said. “After we won, the whole team went out, the gaffer went out, got steaming [drunk], a couple of boys didn't sleep for two days, just got drunk for two days.”

“I was asleep on the coach and went back to the hotel. I was just mentally drained because of everything that was going on outside of my football, and then I went back to the hotel and went to sleep while everyone was out partying.

“It wasn't until probably December where I was in a better place where I was like ‘Oh my God, I've won a European championship’.”

Therapy has been key to Michail Antonio reigniting his passion for football (REUTERS)
Therapy has been key to Michail Antonio reigniting his passion for football (REUTERS)

He first realised he was enjoying football less and less during a match in December 2022, around the same time he experienced a downtown in form.

“I think we even won the game, but I didn't have the best of games,” Antonio said. “And I was just like to myself, 'I'm not enjoying football’. During the game, I was like, ‘I'm really not enjoying this’.

“I just felt quite negative. I'm a very positive person myself.

“I didn't score from December until I think it was March, April time. And I just felt run-down. And then I went away with Jamaica because I was enjoying football with Jamaica for some strange reason.

“But I actually prayed for an injury. I was like, ‘I just want to get injured, I want some time off’. And then I went away with Jamaica and I did my medial [knee ligament in November 2023]. I was thinking to myself, ‘I'm 33. I can't afford to be performing this way, otherwise I'm not going to get another contract’."

Antonio became West Ham’s all-time top scorer in the Premier League three years ago, and is beloved by the fans, but has struggled with the pressure to consistently perform.

“As soon as your life depends on it, as soon as you have people constantly berating you and criticising you, it becomes a job,” Antonio said. “So, it doesn't matter how good it is, it doesn't matter how much you love the game, it becomes an actual job for you.

“I started therapy because I was really struggling. And how I grew up, it was never a thing. I thought therapy was for crazy people. But therapy changed my life. At first it was awkward, I'm not going to lie. You're sat in the room, someone was there and goes, ‘How are you?’.

“And your natural response is, ‘Fine’. So, he's like, 'So why are you here?’. I was like, ‘To be honest... football, I'm struggling with football and I split up with my missus’.”

Antonio made the decision to begin therapy in conjunction with West Ham’s medical staff and the PFA.

He described how football had previously been his escape from his personal problems, but the stress of being a professional footballer and the relentlessness of the modern-day schedule eventually caught up to him and ruined something he’d once loved.

“My football was always my getaway from anything that happened in my life,” Antonio continued. “My dad died and stuff like that, I went to football, and I could black it out for the two hours that I was there or the four hours that I was there.

“My life was a bit turned upside-down because obviously, I'm splitting up with my missus, my wife, and also, I'm not performing on the pitch and things are just not going well for me. And then I'm a person where I’d never cry. And as I was talking to him, I just burst into tears. It was uncontrollable. That gave me some type of relief. And then like my chest felt like clear.”

Antonio added that the therapy sessions have prolonged his career, with the aim of staying at West Ham for another couple of years with potentially three more years in the game.