As far as bombshells go, this one will have left a huge crater around the London Stadium. Slaven Bilic gave a press conference on Thursday morning ahead of a somewhat nondescript London derby against Crystal Palace, and ended it with a Hammer blow to the hearts of the majority of West Ham fans; Dimitri Payet wants to leave and, worst of all, is outright refusing to play for the club.
We’ve been here before, of course, with the age of the mega-money transfer leading many players to force moves elsewhere, but it is rare that the totem of a club, the leading light, the one most adored, seeks a move in acrimonious circumstances.
Payet has long been considered too good for West Ham but, like all of the best players, he made them better. Signed for a mere £10 million in 2015, Payet took the Hammers to within an inch of the Champions League, his skill and poise drawing comparisons with the likes of Dennis Bergkamp. He scored nine goals and had 12 assists in 30 league games. Bilic’s men ultimately finished seventh but they were only four points behind Manchester City in fourth.
Yet, conversely, West Ham also launched Payet into the stratosphere. Links with Barcelona, Real Madrid and Manchester United came about not just because of his performances, but because he was given a platform on which to truly shine.
There is, as ever, an argument of Payet being the biggest fish in a small pond, a la Memphis Depay at PSV Eindhoven, and the proof will be in the pudding should the Hammers decide to cash in on their prized asset.
The facts must remain that no player is bigger than the club, and the evidence can be found across London at Tottenham. While the experiment of buying numerous foreign players in the wake of Gareth Bale’s departure did not immediately pay off, Spurs now look to be a more rounded unit than at any time in Premier League history. Shorn of their star they have rallied to become one of the best-drilled teams in the division.
West Ham must learn a lesson from their bitter rivals, then, and they must sell up. Of course, Bilic has claimed that the club wishes to keep Payet, as evidenced by their willingness to give him a huge pay rise in February, but the club will be mindful of him throwing his toys further out of the pram.
The Hammers are currently 13th and appear to have risen above the grim spectre of relegation; they are seven points clear of beleaguered Sunderland. Efforts are being made to strengthen the squad and while their transfer strategy is slapdash at best, the potential signings of Jermain Defoe and Robert Snodgrass would improve the squad and inject some much-needed energy into a somewhat lethargic season thus far.
Furthermore it is imperative that West Ham drive a hard bargain whenever potential suitors – and it is not hard to imagine that there will be many – come knocking. The club valued Payet at £60 million before Euro 2016, amid fears that Real would pursue the player as a potential “Galactico” addition.
No bids were forthcoming then, but the trend of Chinese clubs spending huge fees to sign Premier League stars shows no signs of slowing down, and the Hammers would not be able to resist a lucrative approach were it forthcoming.
Wherever Payet ends up, he has let both himself and the club down in going about his potential exit in such a way. It cannot be forgotten that while West Ham would have been considerably worse off without Payet last season, the same can be said in reverse.
Payet owes West Ham a debt of gratitude for allowing him to attract the interest of elite European teams, and the fact that he has effectively gone on strike is nothing more than a slap in the face to both the club and their fans.
With the January transfer window open, West Ham should sell fast, and wash their hands of a player behaving like a petulant child.