Michail Antonio opens up on starting therapy after ‘praying for an injury’ as the West Ham star fell out of love with football in the wake of his divorce

Michail Antonio has shared that he is undergoing therapy after falling out of love with football to the extent that the West Ham star once hoped that he would be sidelined with injury. 

The 34-year-old joined the Premier League side nine years ago on the heels of a meteoric rise from non-league side Tooting & Mitcham United, after stints at Reading, Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest

But despite having a lasting spell in the English top-flight, Antonio increasingly felt a strain on his mental health prompted by his divorce from ex-wife Debbie Whittle. 

The striker confessed that he had ‘just started disliking the game’ amid a period of extreme fatigue, brought on by events away from football, and that during a time which should have been one of his happiest – winning the Europa Conference League with West Ham at the end of last season – he was severely ‘mentally drained’.  

‘I was going through my divorce and stuff, and I honestly couldn’t get my head around it,’ Antonio shared on the High Performance podcast. ‘After we won, the whole team went out, the gaffer (David Moyes) went out, got steaming, a couple of boys didn’t sleep for two days, just got drunk for two days. 

Michael Antonio has bravely shared details on his mental health and undergoing therapy

The footballer shared that he had separated from his wife Debbie Whittle a few years ago

The footballer shared that he had separated from his wife Debbie Whittle a few years ago

The West Ham forward struggled with the mental strain of issues in his personal life intersecting with the sport

The West Ham forward struggled with the mental strain of issues in his personal life intersecting with the sport

‘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”.’

But even before the festivities in Prague at the close of the 2022-23 campaign, Antonio had felt overrun by a feeling of apathy towards his playing career. 

The forward noted during one game in December 2022 that he could not stop thinking ‘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”.

The 34-year-old revealed that it took nearly six months for it to sink in that he had won the Europa Conference League with West Ham last June

The 34-year-old revealed that it took nearly six months for it to sink in that he had won the Europa Conference League with West Ham last June

During an international spell with Jamaica, Antonio said that he prayed for injury to keep him from continuing playing

During an international spell with Jamaica, Antonio said that he prayed for injury to keep him from continuing playing

‘So, it’s all those things that spiral through your mind. You’re thinking, “Is this the end for me? Is this my football career over?”‘

After first seeking support in December 2022, Antonio met with a number of therapists after first seeking support from his club’s doctors and the PFA before ultimately deciding to take the next step independently.  

Antonio cited the gruelling club and international demands on players’ schedules as contributing to his feelings about football, adding that: ‘because football’s just constant, you’re constantly just in it. 

‘As soon as your life depends on it, as soon as you have people constantly berating you and criticising you, it becomes a job.

‘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, like, football, I’m struggling with football, I split up with my missus”.’

Before undergoing the experience for which he eventually sought therapy for, Antonio saw the game as his ‘getaway’ adding that whatever personal strife he was suffering previously, ‘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.’

‘But then 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,’ Antonio added.

‘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 joined West Ham from Nottingham Forest (pictured centre, in 2014) nine years ago

Antonio joined West Ham from Nottingham Forest (pictured centre, in 2014) nine years ago

The player believed that he will continue with therapy for another two years as he continues to work on trust and self-esteem issues

The player believed that he will continue with therapy for another two years as he continues to work on trust and self-esteem issues

The player claimed that his currently undergoing sessions weekly, and will look to continue therapy for another two years.  

Antonio, who fronts BBC’s Footballer’s Football Podcast alongside Newcastle’s Callum Wilson, stressed that despite being seen as a ‘very confident person’, therapy had helped him to understand that he has difficult relaxing within himself. 

‘Because growing up there was a lot of traumas that I dealt with,’ Antonio added. ‘So, I avoid sitting within myself. And that’s one thing that I learned via therapy because it was true.’

The Premier League striker added that difficulty making friendships and getting caught up with the wrong crowd as a teenager was another possible contributing factor in struggles with his self-esteem. 

‘Let’s just say I struggled to make friendships when I was in primary school,’ Antonio noted. ‘There was no one that was, I would say, my best friend until I was like 12 and then that person kind of left.

‘When I was 14, I thought these people were my friends, these guys end up stealing a bike. The people got caught with the bikes.

But at this season's close, Antonio has shared that he is feeling more positive and excited about the remainder of his career

But at this season’s close, Antonio has shared that he is feeling more positive and excited about the remainder of his career

‘They grouped up and said “Michail did it”. I’ve been friends with them for three years, going to school every day with them, so it just made me mistrust people.’

But Antonio was keen to stress that he is working towards being in a better place, and is keen to continue his career for another ‘three years’. 

The Jamaica international will look to do so under West Ham’s incoming manager Julen Lopetegui ahead of next season. 

The former Wolves head coach will replace outgoing boss David Moyes, who will call time on his second stint at the east London club with the final match of the campaign on Sunday.  


Source From: Premier League News, Fixtures and Results | Mail Online

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