A fantastic talent graced with agility, speed and the midas touch, Dimitri Payet is something to behold on a football pitch. Few players strike a dead ball better. Few players have the same ability to scythe through opposition defences. And simply, few players are as good to watch. All that’s overshadowed by Payet’s decision this past week to down tools at West Ham, citing a desire to leave the club he pledged his support to, and blaming a dubious back injury for his inability to play.
Twelve months ago, Payet signed a contract extension at West Ham, pledging his commitment to the club. Now he claims his family is unhappy in the capital and would prefer a move. He won’t put on a West Ham shirt, and the club refuses to sell him. It’s an untenable situation and one that Payet will likely win. West Ham can’t afford to pay him his wages if he doesn’t use his dazzling right foot. It’s a bizarre, draconian method of strong-arming an organisation that has treated him like a saint.
Payet is indicative of a “me”, “me”, “me” attitude that pervades professional sport, no more so than football. Yes, this a high-octane arena of big egos and an athlete must make the most of the limited earning mileage he has. But when you’re a star player earning 120 000 pounds a week your grounds for complaint are diminished.
What, exactly, does Payet want? A move away, either to his home of Marseille, or to somewhere more lucrative. After an outstanding 2015-2016 for West Ham and an equally jaw-dropping bow at the Euros last year, Payet returned to London no doubt confident a big money offer was coming. For whatever reason, no deal was ever made.
So why, then, did the Frenchman sign on the dotted line, pledging his support to the club immediately after? Why did he sign if his family were unhappy? Because London isn’t the problem. What matters is money. Payet signed the new deal as a bargaining chip for a better deal from a bigger suitor. He could use it as leverage. This is the world of modern football: overpaid charletons using their pens like the swish of the blade to get even richer. Players like Payet don’t live in the real world. Nor do their agents, who exist on a currency of greed and instil this money grabbing attitude in their clients.
But there was a problem. A new offer never came. Payet is 29, and though in the prime of his career, would only offer 3 or 4 more years of this five-star service. Twelve months on, he is stuck at the club he pledged his phony support to, and won’t do his job until he’s allowed to leave – for more money, no doubt.
What’s most galling of all is the blatant lack of respect for his fellow players. Payet is essentially saying: “you’re not good enough for me.” It’s no coincidence that his return from the Euros and his diminished interest in helping the team had coincided with a drastic downturn in West Ham’s fortunes.
West Ham can’t afford a player of this ilk sowing seeds of discord in the dressing room. Nor can they afford to pay him 120 000 pounds a week while he sits on the sidelines. One would hope they wouldn’t have to pay him at all. Perhaps, in future, this will be the route clubs take. But for now, Payet will likely be sold, or else left to rot on the sidelines while he plots a PR campaign to shame the club that backed him every step of the way.
It’s a sad state of affairs indeed, and saddest of all for the average West Ham fan who spends hard-earned money every week to watch their heroes play.