Dimitri Payet will undoubtedly be remembered as a petulant and selfish player who, despite the clear talent, never played for the club, but for himself. While all of that is true, there is another side of the story looming. A tale that has yet to be told that could shed some light onto this abrupt and sudden departure. 11 months ago Dimitri signed a club record-breaking contract because of dreams that were promised to him, as well as the fans. A new stadium, new players, new kits... all of which met controversy this year. A failure to live up to those aspirations forced both Payet and the fans to grow weary with West Ham management. Why then, are we angry at Dimitri for sharing our trepidation with David Gold and David Sullivan? Like Dimitri, we were promised world class signings. Like Dimitri, we were promised European success. How is it we are outraged... at his outrage?
Because of what he represents. He was the beacon of our success, our champion that was going to bring us from the footballing desert to an oasis we’ve only dreamt about. That might sound a bit dramatic but think back to the summer of 2016. The top quality names that were in West Ham United board rooms negotiating contracts and fees. A club who, only a few years ago, was promoted into top flight football was now welcoming some of the biggest names in the world at their doorstep.
And it all vanished with one tweet on January 6th.
One year ago...
David Gold, David Sullivan, and Karen Brady each promised the footballing world on a silver platter. As fans, we were eager to accept that reality. Who wouldn’t want to be spoken of in the same breath as Chelsea or Manchester United? The contract extension worth £125,000 per week was a new record for West Ham United, and signaled that the club was heading towards the footballing promised land.
Payet was the linchpin, the mastermind, behind a 2016 campaign that was going to bring West Ham United to the rest of Europe. Fans and management all banned behind the 28 year old Frenchamn and he hoisted that responsibility as champion might, forging through opposition. Minstrels wrote songs and cheers for Payet, which fans sung mightily in the stands, both home and away. We put our future into Dimitri, we put everything.
The 2015-2016 campaign ended in record-breaking fashion for West Ham United. We saw the highest point total ever at 62, with Payet netting 12 goals and creating a record number of chances for the club. Dimitri would be the symbol, the brand, of everything that was to come as West Ham United turn the corner.
Of course, if the Hammers were going to be a European footballing powerhouse, they would need a stadium worthy of the best. Enter, London Stadium. Leaving the Boleyn Grounds was not going to be an easy sell, but complaints were pacified with promises of glory. Management sold fans and the media a vision in which London stadium would be filled with world class talent. With dream receipts in hand, fans eagerly awaited the summer of 2016. Surely, this was the transfer window we were going to make a big splash.
The transfers did come, however they lacked the star power promised. When names like Alexandre Lacazette and Michy Batshuayi were being lauded as potential targets, Hammers around the world clamored with excitement. It was really happening! Then reality painstakingly settled in. Lacazette decided to stay at Lyon as West Ham wouldn’t match their asking price. Batshuayi decided to join Chelsea instead of West Ham because management wouldn’t meet Marseille’s demands. We would have to settle for Italian striker, Simone Zaza, who was mostly known for his yabba-dabba-doo penalty kick antics during the Euros 2016.
But that was all okay, why? We had Dimitri Payet. While many of Europe’s top players were disappointing in the European Championships, Payet was business as usual. He picked France up by his shoulders and carried them into the knockout stages. Dimitri introduced himself to the biggest stage in Europe, letting it be known to all, he was a world class player. Little could we know, with bustling pride, what a double edged sword that was.
It started with a tweet
After a disastrous Europa League that saw West Ham knocked out earlier than anyone could have predicted, rumblings began to surface about Payet’s happiness. The English press is no stranger to rumors so all of it was taken with a grain of salt. However, the start to the 2016 Premier League Campaign was stiffened with injuries and tough fixtures. The first six matches yielded five losses, with the only Hammer victory coming against an out of form Bournemouth side. By December, every game became a must win to avoid relegation, and to save Slaven Bilic’s job as manager.
West Ham survived, and moved away from the relegation bubble. Everything was starting to look up for the club until January 6th, when Dimitri Payet liked a single tweet.
East London exploded into a hotbed of Payet rumors. It wasn’t a matter of if he would be sold, but when. Several times, Slaven Bilic had to speak out against the rumors publicly and deny, deny, deny. Sadly however, when a club makes a point to address any allegation, that usually tends to mean there is a bit of truth. Then, on January 12th, just six days after the tweet that rocked the Hammer world, Slaven Bilic took to a press conference.
Dimitri Payet has made no addresses to the press, no statements, and no excuse for the sudden break up. Through other players and friends we’ve learned that Dimitri has a side to this story and we will hear about it when he finally exits. That day has finally come.
In a strange way, you have to feel for Dimitri. He’s received multiple threats via social media and angry fans have attacked his home.
Dimitri Payet's car has been vandalised outside his house, with suggestions a brick was thrown through a window.— West Ham Central (@WestHam_Central) January 19, 2017
Too far... pic.twitter.com/45kDR38pUm
Later, eggs were launched at his house overnight in retaliation for his abandonment. With more threats looming, Dimitri had to send his family home to France for their own safety. There, they waited, for the news that a husband and father would be allowed to return to them. Most of us have the luxury to quit and abandon a job if we didn’t enjoy the environment anymore. Footballers seem to have no such luxury. Perhaps it’s the money, or the fame, but many delusional fans believe the player should answer to them.
Slaven Bilic removed Dimitri from first team practice, forcing him to play with the under 23 squad. He was no longer suiting up for matches and was kicked out of the team WhatsApp group by leader Pedro Obiang. Mark Noble, who once defended Dimitri to the press and threw his support behind him, abandoned the Frenchman to be consumed by the media and fans.
Today, £25m sees Dimitri Payet return to Olympique de Marseille. In a strange way I’m happy for him, the club, and the fans. We can finally put to rest this dramatic upheaval that has stolen the real story of West Ham this year. A club that embarrassingly fell apart in European competition and knew nothing but loss at the start of the Premier League campaign, is now sitting comfortably mid table beating teams no one thought they could. Even more impressive, they are doing it without Dimitri Payet.
While the likes of Robert Snodgrass and Jose Fonte do not live up to the talent of Dimitri, they address dire needs. With only a few more days left in the January transfer window there is still time for one or two more signings. Fans eagerly await an additional forward that can solve some of our attacking woes. We may no longer be in line for the Lacazette’s of the world, but these day’s we’re playing for the Iron & Hammer on our chests, and that’s worth so much more.