At the start of the season, many West Ham fans could be forgiven for believing that the success of the 2015/16 campaign was merely the beginning of a special era for the club. On the face of it there were a number of reasons for those supporters to believe that would be the case. A new stadium, a bright and ambitious young manager and a group of talented players who had threatened to follow Leicester City in gate-crashing the so-called English elite. Yet roll forward a couple of months and those hopes and expectations seem as distant as ever for Hammers fans. A battle to qualify for Europe has been swapped by a battle to avoid the drop, and although a string of positive recent results have put some slight day-light between the East London club and their relegation rivals, manager Slaven Bilic knows that his side have massively underachieved so far this season given the heightened expectations created by their impressive form of last season. So you imagine the last thing Bilic would have needed was star player Dimitri Payet knocking on his door last week to announce he no longer wishes to play for the club.
After arriving from Marseille for the relatively small fee of £10.75 million last summer, Dimitri Payet was the shining light in a West Ham team that defied expectations in challenging for Champions League qualification last season with his swashbuckling skills illuminating Upton Park. Whether it be scoring or assisting Payet was never far away from the action when the Hammers found the net, and having enjoyed such a stellar debut campaign in the Premier League, West Ham supporters were hoping for even more from their French talisman this season. During the summer that looked increasingly likely with Payet taking his domestic form on to an even bigger scale as his starring perfomances for France saw the Euro 2016 hosts come agonisingly close to winning the European Championships on home soil. Yet with the exception of the occasional moment of magic like his goal against Middlesbrough or his rabona cross for Michail Antonio’s goal against Watford, Payet has had nowhere near the same impact in his second season as he had in his first. Playing in a team bereft of the confidence and swagger of last season, Payet’s form is perhaps not that much of a surprise but as one of his club’s best players the Frenchman’s seeming lack of interest and fight this season has been poor, and now having turned his back on his team-mates and manger when they need him most, his career at West Ham looks all but over.
What makes Payet’s decision even more hard to take for all connected with West Ham is just how important the club has been to the player’s recent career. When he arrived at the club, he came to the Premier League as something of an unknown quantity. After something of a nomadic career in France and at the age of 28, his arrival came in under the radar in comparison to the likes of Memphis Depay and Kevin de Bruyne. Yet Payet would go on to outshine both Depay and de Bruyne in a hugely successful season for West Ham, and his form was duly recognised with the Frenchman being nominated for the Players’ Player of the Year award. His form for the Hammers also had a positive impact on his international prospects. Having won just 15 caps and scored one goal over a five-year spell since making his debut in 2010, Payet was dropped from the France squad towards the end of 2015 and with the country preparing to host Euro 2016 his chances of playing at a home tournament looked to be going up in smoke. However his consistency for West Ham throughout the season earned him a recall in March 2016 and the player has not looked back since. In just one calendar year (2016) Payet earned more caps (17) and scored more goals (7) for his country than he had achieved in the five previous years of playing international football. Having looked like missing out on selection at the start of 2016, Payet not only was selected for the summer European Championships but was one of the players of the tournament as France finished as runners-up, with Payet playing in every game and scoring three goals. All of this however may not have been achieved had West Ham not taken a chance on him. At 28, Payet was no spring chicken when he arrived in East London and it is pretty clear from looking at his international career up to that point, that he was hardly seen as a star player within his own country. The move to West Ham gave him the opportunity to showcase his skills on a much bigger stage and it was these performances in front of a global audience that saw the national selectors sit up and take notice, before handing him another chance to play for his country, an opportunity that he has taken with both hands. As well as this a bumper new contract of £125,000 a week was offered to him last February which after signing made him the highest-paid player at West Ham. Yet after all this support, the Frenchman has turned his back on the club. So what do they do now?
The most likely outcome at this point seems to be Payet leaving in this January transfer window. Although this would be against the wishes of the board and probably the manager, the fact that Payet’s playing stance has been made public and the obvious breakdown in relations between the player and his team-mates and manager (not to mention supporters) makes it look very difficult to see anyway back for the midfielder. There is the option of keeping Payet with the Under-23’s team where he is training at the moment, in the hope that he apologises and can return to the first-team fold. However, how will the young prospects in the Under-23’s feel about that? With a large proportion of that squad likely to be made up of home-grown players who dream of following in the footsteps of captain Mark Noble in playing for their home-town club in the Premier League, how will they feel about playing and training alongside a player who has publically stated he never wants to play for the club again. Along with that, West Ham’s 3-0 win over relegation rivals Crystal Palace at the London Stadium on the weekend showed that the club may not be as reliant on the Frenchman as many thought. With the likes of Andy Carroll and Andre Ayew back to full fitness, the Hammers have more than enough fire-power to ensure Premier League safety and have a good enough squad to hope for a much better season next time around. Throw in the fact that Payet will be 30 in March, and this transfer window may represent the best time to sell given that in six months time his value will have diminished due to his age. All of which is why if any club comes in offering more than £20 million for an ageing player who has clearly downed tools this season, West Ham should snap their hand off and say good riddance to a player many now deem not fit to wear the jersey.