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I hated footie so much I prayed for injury, says West Ham's Antonio

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PREMIER League star Michail Antonio has revealed he is in therapy after starting to hate football.

The £85,000-a-week West Ham and Jamaica striker, 34, told how he even prayed he would get injured so he did not have to play.

I hated football so much that I prayed I would get injured, revealed Michail Antonio

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I hated football so much that I prayed I would get injured, revealed Michail AntonioCredit: Getty
West Ham’s then-skipper Declan Rice lifts trophy last June

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West Ham’s then-skipper Declan Rice lifts trophy last JuneCredit: Getty

Antonio, who reveals how personal traumas caused his mental anguish, said: “I just started disliking the game. I began therapy because I was really struggling.”

The West Ham star says his mental health battles left him unable to celebrate the club’s epic European win last year with team-mates — and he slept instead.

In a brutally honest interview, the star says he even hoped for an injury to prevent him from playing.

He believes his problems partly stem from being betrayed by school friends and splitting from his wife.

Antonio — who was called up for England before he chose to play for Jamaica instead — says he expects to still be seeing his therapist for another two years because it has changed his life.

The London-born star — known for his happy public persona — revealed his mental turmoil in a searingly frank interview with telly presenter Jake Humphrey and author Damian Hughes.

He told how everyone associated with West Ham was enjoying wild celebrations last June after they won the Europa Conference League final — their first major trophy in more than 40 years.

But Antonio — the club’s all-time leading Prem goalscorer — was so drained by off-field events he fell asleep on the coach back from the stadium in Prague then went to bed in his hotel room.

He recalled: “I was going through my divorce and stuff, and I honestly couldn’t get my head around it. After we won, the whole team went out, the gaffer went out, got steaming, 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.”

Michail Antonio slept during West Ham’s celebrations after European Conference League triumph

It was six months before he began to appreciate the enormity of the Hammers’ brilliant 2-1 win over Fiorentina. He said: “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’.”

In an interview available to hear on today’s High Performance podcast, Antonio said it dawned on him he had lost interest in football during a match in December 2022, as his form began to nosedive.

He said: “I think we even won the game, but I didn’t have the best of games.

“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, like, 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.

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?

“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’.

“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?’”

He said his football problem was primarily down to getting such short breaks from the game he has been involved in for 16 years — and the constant scrutiny.

And his troubles were worsened by separating from his wife Debbie Whittle, 34, who he married in 2017.

He said: “I just started disliking the game. But 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.”

Antonio said he sought help around Christmas 2022 — seeing a few therapists before he found one he liked.

The West Ham star says his mental health battles left him unable to celebrate the club’s epic European win last year

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The West Ham star says his mental health battles left him unable to celebrate the club’s epic European win last yearCredit: Richard Pelham / The Sun
Antonio said it dawned on him he had lost interest in football during a match in December 2022

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Antonio said it dawned on him he had lost interest in football during a match in December 2022Credit: instagram/Michail Antonio

He had spoken to club doctors and physios, and West Ham and the PFA also had specialist counsellors available. But he wanted someone independent and so he started paying for his own.

The father of four said: “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?’

Michail Antonio’s bravery

By Jack Rosser

MICHAIL ANTONIO has always been know as West Ham’s dressing room joker, so it is incredibly shocking to hear him talk about such awful mental trauma.

The 34-year-old is the go to man for a laugh or a great quote around West Ham.

That the life and soul of the squad was unable to celebrate the crowning glory of his career – winning the Europa League Conference League title in Prague last June – with his teammates shows just how bad things got.

Most shocking to read is that the striker “prayed” for an injury, given his career has too often been blighted by them.

Considering all of that, and the fact that Antonio has always been around the macho world of men’s football, it is such a brave thing to reveal and speak up on.

Football has often shied away from opening up and discussing personal problems.

Players were traditionally told to brush things off and move on – leaving egos and issues at the door.

Things are changing, but for many it is not fast enough so Antonio should be applauded and supported – as he will be at West Ham – for speaking up.

“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’.”

Antonio, who joined West Ham for £7million from Nottingham Forest in 2015, went on: “My football was always my getaway from anything that happened in my life. 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.

PROFESSIONAL HELP

“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.

“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.”

He began weekly sessions, which he can see continuing for another two years. But his therapist wants him to eventually cope without them.

Antonio said: “What is crazy is I was always portrayed to be a very confident person, then what they’ve taught me was that I was a person that’s basically always set myself targets, always looking for missions because I always need something to be done. I can’t relax within myself.

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

He told how he “never could just sit at home”, which “said something about my self-esteem”. He went on: “I’m searching for something. And just to hear that, that set me off. I was in tears again.”

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.

Interviewer Jake said: “It’s a hard thing to hear though, isn’t it?”

Antonio replied: “Massive. Like, I always believed I was the happiest person there is.”

Through therapy he has learned that his tough upbringing in South London left him mentally scarred. He said: “There were certain things that happened in my childhood.

“Let’s just say I struggled to make friendships when I was in primary school. 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.

Antonio said he sought help around Christmas 2022 — seeing a few therapists before he found one he liked

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Antonio said he sought help around Christmas 2022 — seeing a few therapists before he found one he likedCredit: Getty
Through therapy he has learned that his tough upbringing in South London left him mentally scarred

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Through therapy he has learned that his tough upbringing in South London left him mentally scarredCredit: Premier League

“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.”

Antonio told Jake and Damian he would never have been able to open up to them before his therapy.

With his mind in a much better place, he said he feels he has three more years left playing and is happy at West Ham, who will soon have a new manager.

  • LISTEN to the full interview on the High Performance podcast on all major platforms from today.

You’re Not Alone

EVERY 90 minutes in the UK a life is lost to suicide

It doesn’t discriminate, touching the lives of people in every corner of society – from the homeless and unemployed to builders and doctors, reality stars and footballers.

It’s the biggest killer of people under the age of 35, more deadly than cancer and car crashes.

And men are three times more likely to take their own life than women.

Yet it’s rarely spoken of, a taboo that threatens to continue its deadly rampage unless we all stop and take notice, now.

That is why The Sun launched the You’re Not Alone campaign.

The aim is that by sharing practical advice, raising awareness and breaking down the barriers people face when talking about their mental health, we can all do our bit to help save lives.

Let’s all vow to ask for help when we need it, and listen out for others… You’re Not Alone.

If you, or anyone you know, needs help dealing with mental health problems, the following organisations provide support:

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