Stuart Pearce has backed Michail Antonio to emulate his own amazing career progression from non-league to the senior England side.
The 2001 Hammer of the Year began his career at Wealdstone before embarking on a journey that took him through Nottingham Forest to the national team, where he earned 78 caps and starred at two major tournaments, Italia ’90 and Euro ’96.
Twenty years on and Antonio – who Pearce coached during his time in charge at Forest – is following in his former manager’s footsteps.
“Antonio is someone I know well and he’s a great player,” the former West Ham United left-back enthused. “I was really pleased when he got the call-up for England!
“He works really hard at his profession and recently it’s really paid-off. At first it took him a while to break into the West Ham team and he’s been asked to play in different positions, for example right-back, but he always gives everything and that’s fantastic
“There’s a lot said about footballers losing their roots, but he’s got a great journey from non-league and its lovely to see he has not lost his roots and he is still grounded. He has worked hard to get to where he is today and it’s important he keeps the same mentality.”
Pearce also believes his old club can rival the biggest in English football following their summer move to London Stadium.
The England legend made his first visit to Stratford on Saturday, when he was part of the talkSPORT commentary team for the 1-1 Premier League draw with Middlesbrough.
The 54-year-old, who earned 78 England caps and won the 2001 Hammer of the Year, hailed the Club’s smart new home and backed them to make it their own in seasons to come.
“The Stadium is very impressive,” he told West Ham TV. “The Club will put their own hallmark on the Stadium now, and it’s home for West Ham.
“I think West Ham can go on to the next level and the move was essential for the Club. Upton Park was a great place to play your football, but the Club need to evolve.
“When you look at the bigger picture, the last few games have just been a small moment of the Club’s history, as they hope to be here for the next 100 years at least and that’s what is important; the bigger picture.
“This will become a fantastic home for West Ham, they will have some great occasions here. This is just this settling-in period.”
A popular figure wherever he played, Pearce’s all-action performances helped to generate great atmospheres at stadia across the country.
As somebody who knows what it is like to play in front of a raucous crowd, the two-time League Cup winner and 1991 FA Cup finalist believes London Stadium will ultimately inspire West Ham on to great things.
“There will be no better atmosphere with 60-odd thousand fans here,” he continued. “There are some big old clubs in London, and now West Ham have a Stadium to rival them. The training ground has also improved, so the Club has a lot going for it at the moment.
“There’s no reason why the Club can’t achieve great things in the next few years. The manager Slaven Bilic knows the football club and has an affection for the football club as well. There’s a great squad here and some real talent.”