The West Ham United star speaks with Boardroom about his investment in Rezzil, a VR platform that helps athletes evolve.
Michail Antonio is the all-time leader in goals scored for West Ham United in Premier League history, and he is as laser-sharp in his business decisions as he was as one of the most exciting strikers in the top flight . The West Ham No. 9 and Jamaica international is a prominent investor in Rezzil, a Manchester-based virtual reality platform for elite sports.
Much like the other assets in his portfolio, Antonio had the foresight to jump in during infancy.
In an exclusive interview with Boardroom, Antonio spoke about his hands-on approach to business and the story behind his involvement with Rezzil. He also touched on the benefits of VR technology and the future of the industry in sports.
RORY ROBINSON: What kinds of ventures do you usually hone in on as an investor?
MICHAIL ANTONIO: To be fair, it’s quite different. I got an imaginative mind. So there are quite a few things that I do I dabble in. I’ve been speaking to [my agent] Kenny about setting up my own Netflix series [and] about writing my book. There are a few people who’ve done what I’ve done, coming from non-league to the Premier League. I played left-back, I played all these different positions, then gone from doing all that to becoming the all-time goal scorer and No. 9 for West Ham. I’m [also] starting my own development company that helps build apartments and blocks of flats.
RR: So primarily, it seems like you’re more of a hands-on person when it comes to your investments. Is that accurate?
MA: Yeah, definitely. I like to get (in at) the beginning. I want to see it build into something. Obviously, I like to make money. And so if there’s an opportunity for me to make money, I’m going to put my money in there. I’ve got four kids. And so, I need to make sure my money’s right. But I like to see the small things come big. Those are the type where I have my input in things. And like I said, I’m pretty imaginative. So I like to see something build. And to know that I’ve done that from the bottom to the top.
RR: Let’s highlight Rezzil. Oculus and everything VR is huge right now. When did you first hear about the company? When did you realize it was an excellent opportunity for you to become an investor?
MA: I heard about the company five years ago. My [wife] is a lawyer. She used to work for a law company, and they had something called the Barn Door, where they each introduced athletes to companies for investment and ambassadorship. I went to an event, and that’s how I met Rezzil.
As soon as I heard it, they gave me the kit to try out. Not long after I got the kit, I got injured. I realized how much it helped me over time, even over [the COVID-19] lockdown. When I couldn’t train, I was stuck in the house, but I could do things at home — like work on my touch, work on my heading.
Even though I wasn’t physically kicking a ball, [Rezzil] made it so realistic that it felt like I was kicking the ball. They sold it to me straight away because the first thing they did was bring me to the office to try it out.
RR: One of the most surprising aspects of Rezzil technology is that the average person can use it. However, nobody expects technology to benefit any elite player on the pitch. Do you believe that it is beneficial for elite athletes? Do you think the VR world can fine-tune the techniques of striking the ball for you and increase your overall game?
MA: Any percentage that can help you is massive. That 1% that can give you an extra percent over the next player will help you massively on the football pitch. Striking the ball virtually and striking the ball in real life is slightly different. People say becoming a specialist is doing over 10,000 hours of your job. So if you’re doing it outside and you’re doing it at home. You can [get to] 10,000 hours quicker.
RR: What are some of the features that stand out to you with Rezzil?
MA: I like to do the drills. There are drills for passing and judging your control. You can pass into the goals and the heading exercise, but there’s also the analytic side where you can pick the game.
You can pick a moment in that game. Then you can stand in the middle of the field and see where each player on both teams is. When you’ve got the ball, you can see what players are around.
So you’re looking at what places players are running in or what positions you could have been standing in. In football, these types of things you always need to look at. I always watch my games after a match to see what I could have done differently. And the matter of the fact that I can stand on the pitch in my front room and go, Oh, he was there. and he was there, instead of watching it on the TV, where you don’t get to see everything.
RR: Do you think more managers and clubs will start to use Rezzil?
MA: Clubs see how their academy players use it and see if it benefits their academy. Once [the managers and scouts] sees that it’s benefiting them, it will break into the first team or break the fringe players into the first team.
RR: Now the managers have a great scope on your tactics and analytics — maybe they can send a player into VR to watch your run patterns — where you like to move on the pitch, and certain tendencies. Do you ever get worried that VR technology might be too realistic in preparing for a match day?
MA: They have all those stats anyway. There are always scouts coming out to the game. People always send their videos from you playing to the team and then analyze that.
We sit down, and we look at the strengths of a team, the weakness, how they transition, how they defend, how to transition and attack, how to transition defense. These are all things that people are looking at now. Rezzil can help that, but for me, it doesn’t matter because, on the field, I’m going to do my job. I know they can look at all that. But at the end of the day, they’ve got to stop me.
RR: As far as the future of Rezzil, where do you think the technology is heading? Do you think it will become more of a tool for pros to use, or are they going to gear it towards the general public?
MA: I think it’s going to be a good mix of both. The public can use it. That’s how it managed to get onto Occulus. Before, they had a big [hardware] system that they used. It was massive, and it was pretty expensive. But now, they’ve slimmed it down and made it more accessible for anybody.
For elite athletes, it’s a no-brainer for teams to use. The analytic side of things where you can be on the field, like showing what position players are in and what they could have done wrong or differently.
When players are injured, it’s challenging to get them to have a feel of a ball and to get them to do the things that they need to do on the field. They can’t swing their foot, they can’t contact the ball if they’ve [injured] an ankle or hamstring. To have that there where they’re not physically kicking anything, but they can still feel like they can kick a ball, they can feel like they’re heading the ball. Those types of things where it could help.
RR: Real-time analytics from a game is impressive. But knowing the tool aids in recovery for the players is brilliant. Do you think Rezzil helps players not to be as rusty when they return to the pitch?
MA: Exactly. Because every player, no matter who you are, comes back rusty. After a good three, four weeks out. You feel that you’ve not touched a ball before. That first touch is always heavy. And then, as time goes by, you get used to it, and you’re on a roll again.
RR: How do you feel like the technology has helped improve your game?
MA: Forced lockdown was when it was most effective for me. I was stuck in my house. I couldn’t train. Everyone was in lockdown. At the time, we didn’t have many resources to do anything, which many people didn’t. My garden wasn’t really big enough for me to play much football. Rezzil was why I had the ball, even though I wasn’t physically on the ball. I had it and was doing still doing my passes. I could still practice my headers and finishing. It helped me because I also finished the season strong — six weeks, eight goals. I would say some of it, but not all of it, had to do with Rezzil.