“There’s a situation with a player. It is Dimitri Payet.”
Those desperate words begrudgingly spoken by Slaven Bilic send a shiver down every West Ham fans’ spine, bringing back memories of the tragic downfall of our love affair with the Frenchman back in January 2017.
Coming off the back of the memorable final season at the Boleyn Ground, where Payet waved his magic wand at every turn and produced moments of wizardry West Ham fans hadn’t seen since the days of Paolo Di Canio, the following season was always going to be a struggle to replicate the sort of form that saw us reach our highest points total in a Premier League campaign.
That final match at the Boleyn proved to be just the bittersweet symphony that Richard Ashcroft wrote about. It was as good as it got for West Ham fans, and in turn, also as good as it got for the players – including Payet.
After a mesmerising display at the 2016 European Championships , helping guide France to a runners up spot, murmurs of interest for Payet were building up throughout the summer, with the likes of Real Madrid and Manchester United seemingly interested.
These rumours lasted all summer-long, and we were left in limbo as to whether we would be able to hold on to our star man. Different sources provided different stories, and we didn’t know what to believe.
To our relief, after an anxious few months, it was London Stadium where Payet would be playing his football for the 2016/17 season, well, half of it, anyway. We had retained our prodigy and hoped he would be a vital figure in helping us settle in to our new ‘home’. Well, after the club had sweetened him with a £1m loyalty bonus anyway, which I’m sure was just a coincidence.
However, things, as we all know, did not quite go to plan.
Supporters’ unrest surrounding the stadium coincided with the team’s early-season struggles on the pitch; a mix which created a catastrophic opening half-season at London Stadium, leaving fans pinching themselves in the hope that they would wake up from this on-going nightmare and return to the comfort of the Boleyn Ground.
But that wasn’t to be, and matters were only about to get even worse.
Despite accepting the aforementioned £1m loyalty bonus, Payet kicked up a fuss during the January transfer window, which led Bilic to reveal this news to the press, causing outrage among the West Ham fan base.
It was reported that he only wanted to return to Marseille, the same club from which we bought him for approximately £15 million. Family reasons were murmured from Payet himself, which seemed fair enough, but the way in which he went about the saga – going on strike from the club – was the thing that irked West Ham fans the most.
The club was in a tricky situation. Cut their losses and sell Payet back to Marseille – in essence giving in to his demands – or let him rot in the reserves where he would remain a frozen asset, a strategy that would be financially disastrous.
They eventually decided on the former, in turn making a profit on him and galvanising the spirit of the squad, which in hindsight was the correct decision heading into the latter period of the campaign.
Fast-forward to the present day and Payet is now 32-years-old, and Marseille yet again seem to be in a bit of financial bother.
Nothing concrete has been said about anything regarding a shock transfer back to West Ham, but it has got the fan base discussing “what could be” on Twitter and other social media platforms.
It is fair to say that the overwhelming majority would steer clear of Payet, after burning all his bridges with the club and the fan base during the saga back in 2017. I can’t say that I particularly disagree – but not only for those reasons.
— SOCCER.COM (@soccerdotcom) March 13, 2016
He has just come off the back of a disappointing season, both individually and collectively as part of a Marseille team who missed out on Champions League football. He is now at an age where he is past his physical peak, and the chances of seeing the magisterial player that we witnessed some years ago range between relatively slim and non-existent.
We now have a group of young, hungry, talented players who provide a buoyant atmosphere around the club, and the risk of ruining that with a bad apple would, at this stage, almost certainly outweigh the reward.
Thanks for the memories, Payet, but that is all they shall remain.
By Louis Pye (@lou_pye)
[Featured image from whufc.com]