For a number of years West Ham trotted out the same old lines of ‘we didn’t want to sell him but the offer was too good’ and ‘we felt we offered him a good offer but they came in with an offer the player, and us, couldn’t turn down’. Flash forward to 2015 and we find ourselves with French international Dimitri Payet who left his former club, Marseille, frustrated at having no option but to use that very line we’d all grown sick and tired of our club using.
The 28-year-old Frenchman arrived in East London having had his best season of his career; scoring seven goals as well as notching 17 assists in 33 appearances for Marseille. However, more impressive was the fact that he created more goalscoring opportunities across Europe than Eden Hazard, Lionel Messi, Kevin De Bruyne and Cesc Fabregas. Not too bad an achievement by any stretch of the imagination, especially when the player in second place — Wolfsburg’s De Bruyne — was actually 23 chances behind Payet.
We could have done with a player of Payet’s capability and creativity in the second half of last season when we were struggling to create anything and even when we did, we more often than not fluffed our chances. Our main creative force was Downing in the first half of the season, but his form dropped off as did that of the whole starting XI. With Payet, we’ve got a player who sets up a teammate every 23 minutes and on average he creates four goal-scoring opportunities per game. From one player, that’s an incredible stat.
Another thing we rarely seem to do, let alone attempt, is long shots. There were only a handful of goals we scored from outside the box in open play but Payet should change that. He attempted the most shots from outside the box in Ligue 1 with 58. I’d be impressed if our midfield had even attempted that many shots throughout the whole season regardless as to where from on the pitch.
There have been murmurs regarding the move. Is he right for the club? Is the fee justified? What about his attitude/ his agent’s attitude? To answer the first question, we need more creativity and goals, so yes. As for the second, the fee isn’t all one lump sum, as has been pointed out, it is going to be heavily based on bonuses so regardless of his age, the fee is not questionable in my opinion.
The last question is the most worrying, he had indicated he wanted to stay at Marseille before his head was turned by more money so who’s to say after one season with us he could have his head turned elsewhere? All of these worries will no doubt be forgotten quicker than you can sing La Marseillaise should Payet replicate his form from last season and judging by his comments when he signed, he’s going to be around for a while.
‘West Ham really showed me that they wanted me to come, both the chairmen and the manager,’ Payet told whufc.com. ‘That’s very important for me. I was also keen to sign up to a clear project. West Ham’s is very interesting and matches perfectly with my ambitions. ‘Firstly I spoke with the manager, who really wished for me to come here and had been watching me a lot. He made it clear that he wanted me to sign and that too was important in my choice.
‘I’m an attacking footballer so for sure I like attacking football and that they’re counting on me to help achieve that gives me a sense of responsibility. The fact that I’m here is also down to that. ‘I’m very happy to be here. It’s true that it’s taken a little while but that’s normal, negotiations are like that. But now that it’s done, I’m very happy.’ Slaven Bilic even reckons Dimitri Payet is so good he will improve every single West Ham player.
‘It’s still early days but Dimitri is not only a great player, he’s a professional, he’s a good lad,’ Bilic told the press ahead of our Europa League game against Romanian side Astra Giurgiu ‘He’s the kind of player I thought we really needed, that’s going to make every player better than they actually are. ‘He’s got everything. He likes to take responsibility. He was my No1 and I am grateful to chairman that we got him. And it was done like that – not in four weeks.
‘He’s doing really well at the moment. It may go a bit up and down. But we’re going to help him and he’s going to help us.’ Payet gave us an early glimpse of his talents in the 3-2 friendly win at Southend and there was nobody more impressed at Roots Hall than team-mate James Collins by the former Nantes, Saint-Etienne and Lille man. ‘He’s a special player,’ Collins said. ‘I played with him at Southend in the first half and he was by a million miles the best player on the pitch. ‘He’s a tremendous signing for the club. He’s going to create so many chances and score goals as well.
‘You can see it from the day he walked in he’s kept himself fit. He’s come in and speaks very good English and gets on with the lads. It’s an exciting time to have players like that in the squad.’ He was Marseille’s and Marcelo Biesla’s star man but now, he could well be the star for West Ham and Slaven Bilic. Let’s hope that will be the case.