Snake and Hammers

That motto… I think somebody forgot about it this season…

“We have a situation with a player. It is Dimitri Payet. He wants to leave.” – Slaven Bilić

Dimitri Payet has had enough. He is done with West Ham. His manager has just informed the world about that fact. Visibly upset and dejected, Slaven Bilić confirmed his stars’ intentions. The Croat also said what we all knew for a very, very long time – that the club will do anything within it’s powers to make Payet stay. And so will they – at least for the moment. The player shall be left out of the squad for the closest training sessions as well as for the Saturday game against Crystal Palace. A £20 million transfer bid for him that has just arrived at WHUFC’s headquarters from Olympique de Marseille is not even going to be an object of negotiations. Payet will likely be fined £250,000 by his club, as that is the maximum financial punishment a Premier League club can impose on him. Meanwhile, Hammers will completely collapse and get relegated, forcing them to host Burton Albion on their new and shiny stadium…

Alright, maybe not. Maybe I’m confusing the reality with the wet dreams of all Arsenal and Tottenham fans. But this really is a critical blow delivered to the club that hoped to make a leap forward this season. And it’s not even like everything’s been going great for them up to this point: four months ago, I’ve already spared a thought or two for the club that had to temporarily abandon their future dreams because their present reality got bleak. However – that crisis has been eventually resolved and, by the virtue of some of the ugliest victories imaginable, West Ham have picked up enough points to find themselves in the middle of Premier League table. It was still a letdown for everyone associated with the club – but perhaps, a letdown that could’ve been accepted, as Hammers had so many injuries that they needed to sign an emergency left-back at one point.

But then – the big games happened. After an easy 4-1 dismantling of Swansea at Liberty Stadium, West Ham had to play the reigning champions Leicester, the freshly in-form Manchester United and traditionally strong Manchester City – all three games within a week. Those were the games that were supposed to answer whether the team is worthy of another run similar to the one they’ve had last season. The answer was heavy. 0 goals scored. 8 goals conceded. Only 9 shots on target. 0 points won. A cup exit so embarrassing, the fans in Claret shirts were leaving the stands during the half-time. Yaya Touré, the supposedly finished 33-years old Yaya Touré who’s been in a fallout with his manager, looking like a young god against the likes of Obiang and Fernandes. Juan Mata coming off the bench for struggling United to find the net 15 minutes into the second half. A disaster.

Last Friday, prior to entering the fray in the 58th minute of that shameful Man City game, Payet must have been rethinking his life choices and rewinding the time lapse by twelve months. It was January 2016. His club has just outplayed Liverpool 2-0 at home. They’ve also leapfrogged past Crystal Palace to the sixth Premier League spot. Against The Reds, Dimi played only a minor part – he was subbed on in the second half, having just recovered from a nasty ligament tear sustained two months earlier. A week later though, he would score and assist once at Bournemouth, helping his team to a 3-1 win. The results were great. The team morale was going through the roof. Michail Antonio and Manuel Lanzini were stepping up their game. The team was planning a move to the new stadium. An European qualification was just around the corner. West Ham were… growing into a powerhouse?

The one thing, the one single thing Hammers needed to do urgently was signing a class striker. It was essential: out of 115 goalscoring chances created by Payet during the 2015/16 campaign, only twelve have been put away by his teammates. At the same time, at Arsenal, Mesut Özil carved 19 assists out of 144 chances – and everyone was still outraged at the complete lack of finishing qualities through that Gunners’ side. Few months later, Arsène Wenger fixed that problem by playing Alexis Sánchez upfront. And what West Ham did? They’ve signed André Ayew from Swansea, Simone Zaza from Juventus and Jonathan Calleri from Deportivo Maldonado. One of those three immediately got injured for two months; the other two rivalled each other for the title of the worst summer Premier League signing. Even an old chap like Andy Carroll could not help – he was out as well, with a knee problem…

Even with this McCarthy’s tackle, last season was more enjoyable than this one.

From Payet’s perspective, this was a deal-breaker – but hee’s seen enough red flags already. A stadium, where crowd noises have to be played through speakers because it’s acoustics are not good enough to create a proper atmosphere. A cup exit against a Romanian side – exactly the same Romanian side that knocked them out of the Europa League a year earlier. The baord’s inability to sign Alexandre Lacazette despite bank-breaking offers on the table. Their subsequent, laughable, half-hearted winter bids for Jeremain Defoe (£6 million) and Robert Snodgrass (initial £3 million, later improved to a whooping… £5 million). James Collins and Håvard Nordtveit undoing the collective effort with individual mistakes. The progress made by smaller sides like Bournemouth and West Bromwich, who’ve both shown way bigger improvements than The Irons did. His 30th birthday coming up.

Exactly – the age. The age was the reason West Ham landed Payet in the first place. He wasn’t a young gun having a breakthrough season – those are all hijacked by bigger clubs. No – he was a 28-years old who’s just ascended the peak of his career with 17 assists in 36 league matches. His numbers were impressive, sure – but at the same time, nobody could guarantee that he’ll be able to sustain this level of performance in a more competitive league and with only 4 or 5 years of top-level professional football ahead of him. The Réunion-born playmaker has surprised everyone when he not only kept delivering but also surpassed his previous conquests, scoring four goals and assisting three in his first nine games for WHUFC. It was a rare instance of a late-bloomer punching below his weight – perhaps fuelled by the players’ desire to go abroad; perhaps fuelled by the promises.

And that’s what led him here.

Does he still hold a leverage over his current team? Is his very successful, summer campaign at EURO 2016 a trump card that will lure a top-shelf club into signing him? And even if so – is it worth it for him to rot in West Ham’s reserves for six months, not keeping up with the match rhythm and casting further doubts on his own ability? Because this is precisely what he’s risking here: a long, completely unnecessary spell away from the Premier League football. Is he and his agent, Jacques Olivier Auguste, so convinced that West Ham won’t be able to cope without their best player? That’s certainly a possibility. With 74 chances created in 18 league games this season, the Frenchman leaves all of his teammates in the dust – and even with him, Hammers aren’t a particularly creative team. One thing’s for sure: no other Claret player can recreate a sensational strike Dimi has scored to salvage a draw against Middlesbrough.

So, those things considered, here’s the most likely scenario. With over two weeks left in this transfer window, David Gold will wait until a suitable bid comes along. Because, let’s face it: in the world where John Stones goes for £50 million and Watford rejects £35 million for Deeney – Payet must be worth around £40 million at least. If PSG, Real Madrid or some ludicrously rich Chinese club aren’t interested, the man in question and his employer will sign a peace treaty and continue their miserable cooperation until the summer. In either scenario, the rebellious winger will receive hundreds and thousands messages of hatred and abuse from his bitter (former) fans. Because, from a fan point of view, there is only one dimension to this case – and it’s an ungrateful, greedy (£125,000 a week at the moment) snake, trying to escape the ship to which he committed less than 12 months ago – by penning a new, shiny, five-year deal.

At the moment, some people want revenge on that rebel. Others just want to sell him well. And for a good reason: with extra £40 million, Irons could maybe finally afford a proper striker – a striker that Payet has been waiting like for Godot. The paradox.


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