By support

10th Jan, 2017 | 4:13pm

Why cashing in on this brilliant 26-year-old would be point of no return for West Ham

COMMENT By Matt Farr

The transfer window is upon us, and clubs across the Premier League and beyond have wasted no time at all in snapping up their preferred January targets.

West Ham have been one of the most active clubs of any in England, having made approaches for several players. They have yet to officially sign anyone, but they are making better progress than most.

New recruits are high on the agenda for West Ham, after a well below-par first-half of the season, but while it can’t be said for many of the Hammers’ current crop, it is imperative that they can retain the services of their top performers.

In particular, Michail Antonio cannot be allowed to leave the club this month. The brilliant attacking midfielder has been by far West Ham’s outstanding player this term, contributing eight goals and an assist from 27 appearances in all competitions.

Premier League leaders Chelsea are believed to be interested in signing Antonio in the coming weeks, with Antonio Conte keen on signing a new wing-back.

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West Ham are targeting quality reinforcements of their own, but while landing a Jermain Defoe or a Michy Batshuayi for example, would be a step forward, letting a player like Antonio leave the club would be two mighty leaps back.

Sunderland do not want to let Defoe leave because their Premier League survival hopes ultimately hinge on his goals. Hull, meanwhile, would prefer to keep hold of Robert Snodgrass – another West Ham target – for similar reasons.

The same case can be made for West Ham and Antonio, whether his influence lies in helping the Hammers beat the drop or in lifting them into the top ten.

The Hammers have been rescued by Antonio this season, and letting him go would be a major error on the club’s part, and could be a point of no return.

The 26-year-old moved to the club from Nottingham Forest for just £7 million in September 2015, and Chelsea have the financial resources to ensure West Ham recoup what they paid for him without any problem.

But finances aren’t the issue in a deal. The question is whether or not West Ham will baulk under the weight of an enticing offer and commit to parting with Antonio.

Consider this. West Ham have must-win games against Crystal Palace and Middlesbrough on the horizon, ahead of a clash with a Manchester City side that thumped them 5-0 at home in the FA Cup last week.

While there is a need for several of West Ham’s other key players to step up and take charge, Antonio is the man most likely to bail them out of trouble. If they go down to Palace or Middlesbrough, they move one step closer to the relegation zone.

If they lose Antonio to Chelsea, or anyone else for that matter, they’ve lost their safety net. They simply cannot afford for that to happen.

In other West Ham transfer news, fans reacted angrily to comments made by co-chairman David Gold in their pursuit of Jermain Defoe.

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