Prem star says he prayed for an harm so he did not need to play soccer

West Ham striker Michail Antonio bravely revealed he ‘prayed for an injury’ before beginning therapy after starting to hate football.

The 34-year-old has been a West Ham player for almost a decade after arriving from Nottingham Forest in 2015 following a meteoric rise up the football pyramid, starting his career at non-league Tooting & Mitcham United.

But having enjoyed a lasting spell in the Premier League, and being called up to represent Jamaica, Antonio admitted the detriment to his mental health following his divorce from his ex-wife led him to fall out of love with football.

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Speaking on the High Performance Podcast, Antonio recalled how he didn’t even celebrate West Ham’s UEFA Conference League success at the end of last season, he said: “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
The West Ham forward admitted he didn’t celebrate West Ham’s Conference League triumph

The forward admitted it was around six months after the final before he began to appreciate the Hammers’ historic win against Fiorentina. “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’,” he recalled.

Antonio said it dawned on him that he had lost interest in football during a match in December 2022 as he struggled with his form, saying: “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.

Michail Antonio
The 34-year-old said that he always enjoyed playing for Jamaica

“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?’”

Antonio sought support in December 2022, where he met with a number of therapists after deciding to take his next step independently following meetings with the club’s doctors and the PFA. “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.

Michail Antonio - Debbie Whittle
He divorced his ex-wife Debbie Whittle

“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 his experiences, Antonio saw football as his ‘getaway’, especially after the passing of his dad. He said: “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.

“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.”

Michail Antonio
Antonio revealed he is currently receiving therapy

Through therapy, he learned that his tough upbringing in South London left him mentally scarred, remembering one occasion where children he believed were his friends turned on him.

He recalled: “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. 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 said he is currently undergoing sessions weekly and will look to continue therapy for another two years. Adding he is happy at West Ham and plans to play for at least three more years.