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Irish Hammer 1:16 Sun Jan 30
Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Decent Sunday read. Basically a star that burned so bright it got in its own way.

Enjoy ⚒️


Dimitri Payet was the X factor’: The world-class talent, the fallout and the bitter West Ham exit

“We played a pre-season game against Southend United. Straight away I thought, ‘Fucking hell, what a player’. He scored two goals and was unbelievable. He’s one of the best I’ve ever seen.”

It is July 18, 2015, and a new star is in town. At Roots Hall, Dimitri Payet is making his debut following a £10.7 million arrival from Marseille. Southend is only a few miles beyond their east London patch, so 1,500-plus West Ham United fans are in attendance — and they, along with Stephen Hendrie and company out on the pitch, cannot quite believe what they have witnessed.

“Payet was a joke that day,” former West Ham midfielder Hendrie tells The Athletic. “It was mainly the young lads playing but in the dressing room after we all looked at each other like, ‘Fuck me, we have a player here’. (Manager) Slaven Bilic gave him a big hug after the game. That’s when I knew it was going to be a special season.”

West Ham beat their neighbours, who were newly promoted to League One, 3-2 that day, with experienced players Darren Randolph, James Collins, Angelo Ogbonna, Cheikhou Kouyate and Diafra Sakho in the starting XI. But for Southend’s then-manager Phil Brown, it was Payet who left a lasting impression.

“There was one player — Dimitri Payet — who showed absolute quality. I asked Slaven Bilic whether he was going to take him off and make it more of an even game,” he said.

Over the next 18 months, the Frenchman would continue to entertain supporters. But despite his memorable solo goals, free kicks from long distances and jinking runs, the West Ham faithful have not forgiven Payet for his acrimonious departure in January 2017.

Five years to the day since he left to rejoin Marseille, this is the story of his time in England. It is a tale of how the talented playmaker became one of Europe’s most exciting footballers, why club staff became frustrated with his off-field antics and why there is so little love for him now at the London Stadium.

The arrival: ‘We have signed a world-class player’

West Ham finished 12th in the 2014-15 Premier League after winning one of their last eight games, 12 points clear of relegation and 15 off European qualification. Within minutes of a season-ending 2-0 loss away to Newcastle United, manager Sam Allardyce announced he would be leaving the club he’d steered up from the Championship three years earlier.

“I didn’t want to stay,” he said. “I suppose you could say it was mutual if they didn’t want me to stay either.”

The story goes, two days before that defeat at St James’ Park, West Ham co-owners David Sullivan and David Gold informed Allardyce they would not be renewing his contract. With the following summer’s move from their traditional Upton Park home to London 2012’s Olympic Stadium on the horizon, the hierarchy felt the club needed to go in a new direction.

When West Ham began their search for Allardyce’s successor, they looked at Rafa Benitez and Jurgen Klopp. They held talks with Marcelo Bielsa. While outlining his vision for the club, the Argentinian revealed who he would like West Ham to sign from Marseille, his employers at the time, if he got the job.

Sullivan told the Daily Mail: “We said, ‘Who is the one player you would bring?’ and he said, ‘Payet’.

“Later, I said to Slaven Bilic (who got the job of succeeding Allardyce, with Bielsa staying in France), ‘What do you think of Payet?’, and he said, ‘I’d love him — not only will he achieve great things, but he will make the other players better. They will get passes they wouldn’t normally get and score goals they wouldn’t normally score’.

“So the negotiations went on and on, the fee went up and up, the wages went up and up. It started at £6 million and wages of £40,000 a week and ended up at… well, that’s confidential… but a lot of money. He’s worth it.”

Eventually, on June 9, West Ham appointed Bilic on a three-year contract. Seventeen days later, they announced the signing of Payet on a five-year contract, with the option to extend for a further year.

“We have signed a world-class player. If he was 22, he would be £30 million-plus, but he’s still in his prime,” said majority shareholder Sullivan.

The 28-year-old France international had set up 51 goals over the previous six seasons in the French top flight with Saint-Etienne, Lille and Marseille. The 2014-15 campaign alone saw Payet deliver 17 assists — the fourth-highest total in all of Europe’s top five leagues.

dimitri-payet
Dimitri Payet poses after signing for West Ham at Upton Park in June 2015 (Photo: Arfa Griffiths/West Ham United via Getty Images)
“I didn’t really know much about him but after a few weeks, playing in pre-season, you could see he was a serious player,” says ex-West Ham defender Joey O’Brien.

“Manuel Lanzini joined that summer too, and he and Payet took us to another level. But Payet was the X factor in the group. He reminded me a lot of my ex-Bolton team-mate Jay-Jay Okocha.”

West Ham’s 2-0 away win over Arsenal in their 2015-16 Premier League opener is remembered for being the fixture where teenager Reece Oxford excelled head-to-head against 2014 World Cup winner Mesut Ozil. Oxford became the seventh-youngest player in Premier League history that day at the age of 16 years and 237 days. But Payet, also making his Premier League debut, impressed at the Emirates Stadium too and provided the assist for Kouyate’s opening goal.

Payet then scored his first official West Ham goal in the following fixture against Leicester City.

But former France manager Raymond Domenech upset the fanbase when he described their new hero as “too good for West Ham”, and Payet was left out of the French squad by then-coach Didier Deschamps later that month for friendlies against Portugal and Portugal.

But after what unfolded over the rest of that season, Deschamps knew he could no longer ignore Payet’s form.

A star is born: ‘Payet is the signing of the season. He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years’

West Ham won six of their first 10 league games that season, drawing twice and losing twice. They moved up to fifth in the table, a point behind Arsenal in the final Champions League spot, when Payet scored both goals in a 2-0 home win over Newcastle.

“He is a great player but he also makes players around him better,” said Bilic.

Nikica Jelavic, who played up front for West Ham that season, agrees.

“When I trained with him, that’s when I noticed he was really special,” Jelavic says. “In five-a-side games, everyone wanted to be on his team. He made all of us better players.

“He was always a couple of minutes late for training. We would have to be at Rush Green at 9:30am and he was there a few minutes after. But Payet he would get away with it because he was so important to the team.

“I joined West Ham on the last day of the transfer window and he was flying by that point. He had a big impact on the team and he was a key player for us. In every training session and match, it just highlighted how important he was for us. It reached a point where you couldn’t imagine the team without him. He was that good. He was also a leader for us on the field.”

But just as West Ham were building momentum, Payet suffered an ankle injury in a 1-1 draw with Everton in early November. The playmaker, who at that point had scored five goals in 14 appearances for the club, was set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines.

West Ham took just five points from a possible 18 in their next six league games, not winning one of them and only scoring three times, as their talisman worked his way back to fitness.

Payet returned, ahead of schedule, in a 2-0 home win over Liverpool at the start of January. He then led an inspired comeback in a 3-1 victory away to Bournemouth just over a week later and received a standing ovation from the visiting enclosure.

His importance to the team was growing by the week, and he had scored (six) or assisted (five) more goals across all competitions than any other player in the squad despite missing those two months through injury.

Given his form, there was speculation over Payet’s long-term future, so it was a relief to West Ham when he gave assurances to supporters that he had no intention of leaving.

Then, on February 11, the Frenchman signed a new five-and-a-half-year contract tying him to the club until the summer of 2021.

“Payet is the signing of the season,” said Sullivan. “He’s the best player I’ve signed in 25 years. He’s a £30 million player. He’s a supreme footballer. He makes every player in our side play better. On his day, he’s world class — he’s unstoppable.”

With West Ham fans relieved their star man was going nowhere, they serenaded him in the next league fixture away to Norwich City:

“We’ve got Payet, Dimitri Payet, I just don’t think you understand. He’s Super Slav’s man, he’s better than Zidane, we’ve got Dimitri Payet.”

The video lasts four minutes and 33 seconds and highlights just how much those supporters appreciated Payet.

The attacking midfielder scored West Ham’s opener as they came from two goals down in the second half to draw 2-2 that day at Carrow Road and was embraced by his manager after the game.

In typical fashion, Payet stole the headlines the following weekend in an FA Cup tie away to Blackburn Rovers, scoring a trademark free kick and a terrific solo goal in a 5-1 win that put West Ham into the quarter-finals.

dimitri-payet
Payet celebrates scoring as West Ham batter Blackburn Rovers 5-1 away in the 2015-16 FA Cup (Photo: Jan Kruger/Getty Images)
“The instruction from Bilic was simple: ‘Give the ball to Payet because he will do something special’,” says Hendrie. “Bilic loved him. I wasn’t in the squad for the game against Blackburn but I watched it at home with my mum. When he stepped up to take the free kick, I told her, ‘This will be a goal’ and then he scored.”

Post-match at Ewood Park, Bilic was full of praise for his playmaker.

“Dimitri is one of the very best, in terms of the players that I’ve played with and coached,” he said. “He is up there with Luka Modric.”

Jelavic played alongside future Ballon d’Or winner Modric under Bilic for Croatia. While he agrees with his former international manager in terms of his quality, he believes Payet needed to sustain that level of brilliance for a longer period.

“He’s up there with Modric in terms of the best players I’ve played with,” he says. “Payet was a magician. The way Modric was important to Croatia is similar to how important Payet was to West Ham. The only difference is Modric has been doing it for over 10 years. Payet was phenomenal for a year and a half. Payet is at a top level, but Modric has been more consistent.

“At the time, Payet was one of the best players in Europe. It looked like he was having fun. He was like one of those kids on the playground who knows they’re better than everyone else.

“I’ve played with many good players in my career but with Payet’s talents, he could have achieved more in his career. That talent was so natural but with talent like that, you have to do more in your career.”

O’Brien agrees.

“I played with Nicolas Anelka and he did it in different leagues at a high level,” he says. “Dimitri is up there but the problem with him is he wasn’t able to maintain it at a high level long enough. Doing it over and over again is what separates the really good players from the special players.

“If he stayed at West Ham, they would have had some really good times. He had that arrogance where he knew he was the best. He wanted to be the main man.”

False promises: ‘I’m 100 per cent staying at West Ham, I love the club. I can tell the fans that’

It is now March 2016, and Bilic’s side are still in contention for a top-four finish.

As it stood in March 2016
POSITION TEAM P GD PTS
1
Leicester City
29
21
60
2
Tottenham Hotspur
29
27
55
3
Arsenal
29
16
52
4
Manchester City
28
21
50
5
West Ham
29
12
49
6
Manchester United
28
11
47
Payet’s 90th-minute winner to beat Everton 3-2 at Goodison Park highlighted once more why he was a sought-after talent. He was named man of the match and seven days later he scored arguably his best goal for the club.

Manchester United hosted West Ham in the fifth round of the FA Cup. With 22 minutes to play, the visitors were awarded a free kick.

What happened next was sheer brilliance from Payet.



“Dimitri had no idea about my playing career,” says West Ham hero Julian Dicks, who was first-team coach at the time. “One day he came up to me and said, ‘I’ve looked you up on YouTube. Why were you so aggressive?’. And we had a laugh and joke about it.

“You didn’t have to coach Dimitri. He knew what he was doing, you just had to massage his ego. Dimi was a special player. There were times when you would think to yourself, ‘Fuck, how did he do that?’. He was a very gifted player. It’s just a shame how it ended. His free kick against Manchester United at Old Trafford (the game ended 1-1, and West Ham lost the replay 2-1) was special.”

Three weeks later, Payet would score an even better free kick in a 2-2 home draw with Crystal Palace.

Former West Ham team-mate Havard Nordtveit was accustomed to seeing him working on that skill in training.

“He had a special technique where he took three steps back and one to his left before he shot,” he says. “He practised that every day in training. They should study his technique. It was like art at times. Whenever I think of Payet, I think of his free kicks.

“I sat next to him in the dressing room. After training, me, Payet and Lanzini would stay behind and practise free kicks. We had a rule that as long as you hit the target, you get another shot. Quite often, Payet would be hitting the target all the time and me and Lanzini would be watching, because we couldn’t get the ball off him.”

Payet’s portfolio of outstanding individual moments was increasing.

His first league goal of the following season, against Middlesbrough in early October, was memorable given how outrageously good it was.



“He was always trying to put the ball through players’ legs,” says Matt Jarvis, another West Ham team-mate. “The goal against Middlesbrough was a joke. His natural ability was so good.”

West Ham finished seventh in Payet’s debut season, good enough to bring Europa League football to their new stadium in 2016-17.

The players were joined by actor and diehard West Ham supporter Ray Winstone at the Hilton hotel in Park Lane for the club’s end of season awards. Payet, who led the team in goals (12) and assists (13), was voted Hammer of the Year and won four other categories including signing of the season and goal of the season.

“It recognises the hard work I’ve put in and I am very happy about it,” said Payet, who was also voted into the PFA Premier League Team of the Year by his fellow players. “I need to thank my team-mates and the coaching staff.”

From there, he went on to shine at the 2016 European Championship on home soil in France. He scored three goals and provided two assists while playing in all seven games but the hosts lost the final 1-0 to Portugal.

Once again, there was speculation surrounding Payet’s long-term future at West Ham.

Jack Sullivan, son of David, tried to reassure supporters he would be staying.



“I’ve heard about all the interest and I’m flattered but I love West Ham,” Payet said. “We had a fantastic season and I can’t wait to play at the London Stadium. I’m 100 per cent staying at West Ham, I love the club. I can tell the fans that.”

But ultimately that proved to be a false promise.

Payet’s behaviour leading up to the January 2017 transfer window left the club with no option but to sell their star player.

On strike: ‘Payet does not want to play for us, he wants to leave’

Despite that terrific solo goal against Middlesbrough, Payet’s form regressed the next season, and it was starting to harm the team. In the first 15 league games of 2016-17, West Ham lost eight and drew four, with Payet scoring only twice.

“We weren’t close off the pitch, and we had a lot of French-speaking lads in the dressing room,” says O’Brien. “He was friendly, but it seems like he changed a lot in his second season. He didn’t want to play, he wanted to leave and that annoyed the fans.”

dimitri-payet
Payet was a hero among the West Ham fans before his bitter exit (Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Subdued performances led to inevitable questions about Payet’s future.

For Bilic, the final straw was his press conference on Thursday, January 12, following back-to-back defeats against Leicester City and Manchester United in which West Ham failed to score a single goal.

In the canteen at Rush Green, Bilic was mulling over whether to tell the press how he felt about Payet’s behaviour. The winger had been on strike for two days, but it wasn’t until the short walk to the media area that the Croatian, himself a former West Ham player, decided enough was enough.

“We have said we don’t want to sell our best players but Payet does not want to play for us, he wants to leave,” Bilic said that day. “He’s definitely our best player and that’s why we gave him a long contract. We are not going to sell him. This team, the staff — we gave him everything, we were always there for him. I feel let down. I feel angry.

“I expect him to come back and show commitment and determination to the team, like the team has shown to him. He’s probably been tapped up by some clubs or whatever, that is usual at this time of year, but until he changes his attitude, he is out of the team and he’s not going to train with us. I have a team to manage. We are not going to sell him.”

To engineer a return to Marseille, Payet was refusing to train or play. It is thought Payet’s wife, Ludivine, and his three children had failed to settle in London.

The saga reached a point where Payet was banned from the training ground at Rush Green and was instructed to work with the under-23s at their Chadwell Heath site. He immediately stood out, given TV cameras were keen to capture his arrival in a silver Lamborghini.

Payet was also scheduled to play for the under-23s, then managed by academy director Terry Westley, against Aston Villa at Dagenham & Redbridge’s stadium on Monday, January 23. But he failed to turn up. Supporters became tired of Payet’s antics and the Daily Mail reported his car was vandalised outside his house.

“I was really disappointed with him when he said he wouldn’t play for West Ham again,” says Dicks. “I understand him wanting to go back to Marseille, because it’s football and these things happen sometimes. But he could have said, ‘Listen, boss. I want to go back home because I’m homesick. I will play for you but please can you sell me back to Marseille?’. As much as Payet was an important player for us, the gaffer would have gone, ‘Dimi, not a problem’. But unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that.”

“The guy was an amazing player in the short space of time he was at the club,” says former West Ham centre-back and occasional captain Winston Reid. “He’s probably the best player I’ve played with. He had a good time at the club, although things probably didn’t finish on a good note. Players come and go. I wasn’t annoyed that he managed to leave, I understood his reasons.”

West Ham reluctantly accepted a bid from Marseille on January 29.



The following day, Payet completed his £25 million move back to the French club who had sold him 18 months earlier, and signed a four-and-a-half-year contract.

“The club would like to place on record its sincere disappointment that Dimitri Payet did not show the same commitment and respect to West Ham United that the club and fans showed him, particularly when it rewarded him with a lucrative new five-and-half-year deal only last year,” said Sullivan.

Since that bitter exit five years ago, a now 33-year-old Payet has scored 52 goals in 194 appearances for Marseille. He has cited family problems and boredom as his reasons for leaving West Ham.

But there is a rather peculiar story that may have been a contributing factor behind his departure.

Following a hard-fought 1-0 home win over Hull City around six weeks before Payet was sold, the West Ham social media team put out a jokey tweet asking fans to vote for one of Andy Carroll, Cheikhou Kouyate, “The Post” or Reid as man of the match.



The Post got 57 per cent of the votes — much to the displeasure of Payet.

“Against Hull, we won 1-0 and they (Hull) hit the post four times,” he said. “In the changing room everyone was happy, but the man of the match that day was the post.

“I thought I would not progress anymore.”

Tracking down Payet: ‘Sorry, but right now Dimitri doesn’t want to talk to the media’

On July 8, 2019, Marseille were in England on tour and trained at St George’s Park before pre-season friendlies against Accrington Stanley and Stoke City.

After a three-and-a-half-hour train journey from London up to that corner of the Midlands, this correspondent arrived at England’s training base eager to speak to West Ham’s former hero.

Payet walked straight past me after Marseille’s open training session.

So I followed up with an email requesting an interview. This was turned down.

Since then, Payet has rejected numerous further interview requests from The Athletic.

For a player who has no issues doing his talking on the field, he has proved elusive off it.

Replies - Newest Posts First (Show In Chronological Order)

Nagel 12:00 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
In a way it's probably a bit less cuntish that he would only go back to Marseille and did it for family reasons rather than sheer greed, the way Arnautovic did. Obviously we would have got more money if we could have sold him to the highest bidder, but in the end you can look on it that Marseille paid us to loan him for the peak of his career.

13 Brentford Rd 11:51 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
However good they are players are no use if they are disruptive cunts.
Doesn't deserve to be mentioned in the same breath as any of our great players, would rather have Bowen than him.

Would

Rossal 11:26 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Fantastic player, huge cunt leaving the way he did.

Fucks me off anyone creaming themselves over him and the official club channels still replaying his goals and how good he was.

BRANDED 10:29 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Being atBlackburn that day is certainly a highlight of following West Ham.

13 Brentford Rd 10:29 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
What a cunt!

Leeshere 5:04 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Still remember thinking we had Maradona in the team after Payet scored that solo run goal against Blackburn in the FA Cup.

Mike Oxsaw 3:14 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Lots of words but no closer to knowing what triggered him into leaving.

Could still have been his wife catching him playing away from home, could equally have been the board deciding he was the man and thinking they needn't buy more (expensive) world-class players to build a team around him.

whu 2:40 Mon Jan 31
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
didn't have the time, did the old testament instead

tnb 11:14 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Also, Hendrie was a full back. Not a very good one either.

tnb 11:13 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
For me it’s at a point now where he’s a bit like a shitty ex.

I walked into an Irish pub in Sicily just as he went off in tears in the Europa League final during the Europa League final at the end of the season after he left, and I fucking enjoyed it.

Now if he came back with Marseille I’d probably clap him at the start because after a while it’s not worth holding onto the anger and disappointment and you can appreciate the good times you did have from a distance. After that he’s just another player and I’d hope he loses no more or less than anyone else on the opposition team.

I remember a comment here when he scored in the group stage for France asking whether we had the best player in the world. A bit over the top but it wasn’t completely ridiculous. He was great at times, he could have been truly great. He wasn’t for us in the end and he hasn’t been for anyone else since. It’s a shame for him and he fucked it up for reasons I don’t really care about.

That’s his problem and it doesn’t need to take up any time in our heads, either in anger or regret.

factory seconds 9:03 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
bit of a shit article really. thought it might have some new insight into what went on in the run up to him leaving, but is just shite we've all heard 100 times before.

chim chim cha boo 7:08 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
thanks Irish, an article that bought up some good memories and some bad.

I read an article after he'd gone asking him why he'd left the club so acrimoniously. He apparently smiled and said 'because I'm an arsehole'.

On The Ball 5:46 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Journalist friend said at the time that it was well-known that his wife had caught him out and went back - that's why it HAD to be Marseille.

Mex Martillo 5:19 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
I can't forgive him for leaving the way he did. Hoped this would give some logical explanation for it, but didn't did it, it's not clear.
Cunt, best gone and don't care what he's done since. Even find it hard to be happy about what he did at West Ham.
Thanks Irish

zico 4:23 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Thanks Irish, For pure talent and some of his performances he was right up there for a season. Everything else he is at the bottom of the pile. Can't remember which pundit it was but they said what has he really done before or since leaving West Ham? A talent wasted in many ways, could have been one of the best with the right commitment and attitude.

simon.s 2:41 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
The palace free kick was something else, though I’d still say the free kick against the Mancs just edges it for me. Probably because that was against the best keeper in the league, and I was there!

I’m just glad he played for us, even if it did all turn to shit in the end.

Crassus 2:27 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
Word at the time was that his Mrs discovered his ‘playing away’ fixture list and said she was returning to Marseille - if you want to see me or the kids again you better come too

Makes a modicum of sense, along with the theory that he was promised at re-sign that we would be bringing in quality signings and never did, but what a player he was

Pentonville 2:19 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
did Cox ever reveal the true Sahko story? lol.

twoleftfeet 2:09 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
The Palace free kick will never be beaten.

Far Cough 2:04 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
"You have to assume he was just one of those sulky won’t be told types"

smarty, you could have easily just said, he's French

smartypants 1:53 Sun Jan 30
Re: Long Article - Dimitri Payet & what happened
You have to assume he was just one of those sulky won’t be told types, who’s there own worst enemy. Loved watching him, you always new he could create something from nothing. Remember his free kick at Blackburn away in the cup, the second it left his foot I shouted out that’s in.

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