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Dimitri Payet: From hero to zero

Only five months ago, everything was looking glorious for West Ham. They had enjoyed a successful campaign in the Premier League, were about to complete their move to the imperious London Stadium and had been linked with star strikers like Alexandre Lacazette and Carlos Bacca. Most importantly however: they had Dimitri Payet. The diminutive Frenchman had lit up the previous season with his stunning free kicks and after finishing an impressive (albeit ultimately disappointing) Euros campaign with France, he seemed the man capable of propelling West Ham to the next level. Merely a week ago though, the situation changed dramatically. Payet hadn’t just stated a desire to move on from the club, but also openly decided to refuse to play or train with the Hammers again – a decision which reeked of disrespect. Nevertheless, taking into account West Ham’s lacklustre start to the season and Payet’s obvious ability, is he justified in his choice, no matter how controversial it may be?

Payet playing for West Ham back in April

First of all, and in no way do I mean this disrespectfully, Payet is far too good for a team of West Ham’s calibre. With memorable away wins at the Etihad, Emirates and Anfield in 2015, it would be fair to say that they overachieved last season. In August fans probably knew that the chances of replicating the bygone campaign were incredibly slim, even with the influence of their gifted number 27. In spite of their form improving over the last few weeks (ironically coinciding with Payet’s antics), the Hammers’ early form was disastrous. Conceding a combined 12 goals at home to Arsenal, Watford and Southampton, along with four away to West Brom, led to relegation fears being mooted by fans, while there were also understandable calls for the sacking of manager Slaven Bilić. Meanwhile, amid this disarray was Dimitri Payet. The only great moments from West Ham seemed to come from the Frenchman and his frustration was palpable. While he was assisting using rabonas and scoring wonderful solo goals (notably against Middlesbrough), the rest of the team seemed laborious and bereft of any tempo. Payet was still top of the league in terms of chances created, yet with the team struggling to put any of these opportunities away who could blame him for wanting to leave? With such great ability he could have been starting for one of the better clubs in Europe and West Ham fans surely had to start preparing for the inevitability of his departure.

But few would have predicted what ensued earlier this month. Although rumours had been rampant about Payet wanting to leave the club, with a preference to return to his former team Marseille, barely anybody expected him to flat-out demand a transfer and decline to play until it occurred. Not only was this incredibly disrespectful to his teammates and manager, with Bilić visibly upset when announcing the news in a press conference, but most importantly it was extremely disrespectful to the supporters. West Ham fans had consistently stuck by Payet and he was a figure of adulation for many, so to betray them was borderline criminal. Granting it may be somewhat of an exaggeration to say West Ham made Payet, it is unlikely he would have the recognition and attention he has today without them and the chance to even go to the Euros for France may not have been forthcoming. In fairness to Payet, his desire to leave doesn’t appear to be monetary (he has apparently rejected up to £500,000 per week from multiple Chinese clubs), but purely homesickness and family reasons as Marseille is the only team he wants to play for. His way of going about his wish is shameful though – he owes West Ham the same amount of respect they have shown him.

There are no two ways about it: West Ham need to sell Dimitri Payet and rather than languishing in the U23s, it would be best for all parties if he moved on. With consecutive league wins since the news broke, the disharmony Payet created seems to have led to more unity from the other West Ham players and they have shown that they can cope fine without him. Payet’s relationship with the fans has reached a point of no return as well. When his cars and property are being vandalised and his shirt is being used as a doormat to the entrance of the London Stadium, there is very little chance of redemption between him and the Hammers’ supporters, even if Marseille fail to pay the asking price and he ends up staying. Options may be limited when trying to sign great players in the January window, although Swansea’s Gylfi Sigurdsson has been rumoured and would be an excellent acquisition. Payet’s departure will not only be a great loss to West Ham, but his talent will be missed in the entirety of the Premier League. His actions are still unforgiveable though, so here’s hoping his career stagnates in France to at least give West Ham the sense of justice they deserve. After all, no man is bigger than his club.