Despite leaving the club in January 2017, on bitter and acrimonious terms, Dimitri Payet has been linked with a shock return to West Ham. He enjoyed a brief cult hero status, had just won their player of the year award and his name was sung at every game, however, Payet wanted out. The previous summer, he had tried to force a move away from West Ham but the club vetoed it.
This led to massive friction between him, his team mates, the board, and then-manager Slaven Bilic, leaving no real choice but to offload him. He signed for his former club Marseille, for a fee of £25 million. However, rumours have started to circulate that he wants to leave France, with West Ham his desired location. In addition, it’s believed Marseille are having financial difficulties, so would be keen to sell the French playmaker.
Will he be welcomed back?
The question is, how well would he be received, if he returned? After his return was alluded to by trusted West Ham in-the-know account @ExWHUEmployee, many West Ham fans took to social media to express their opinions on Payet’s possible arrival. As expected, the responses were polarised. Some were adamant they could never forgive him for leaving whilst the club were facing a relegation battle, whilst others said they’d welcome him back with open arms, as his talent couldn’t be ignored.
Whilst I’m not a West Ham fan (so maybe my opinion on the matter counts for less), I’d be very disappointed if my club brought back a player that had left in such a bitter manner. When Payet left West Ham in January 2017, West Ham were on the precipice of a relegation battle. Whilst they ultimately stayed up, Payet should have been far more professional and, in turn, stayed the course of the season. He could have compounded their woes and made things far worse.
West Ham fans who want to see him return are saying his actions can be excused because he “put his family first”. He may well have done, but if rumours about the nature of his family issues are to be believed, and he is the cause, it’s hard to feel sorry for him.
He was loved once
West Ham fans who are staunchly opposing his return are right to do so. Let’s not forget that Payet wasn’t just a fringe player, or one who didn’t gel with the squad. He was integral, arguably the team’s best player and was well-loved by fans in return. Payet even had a mural erected for him at the London Stadium, which had to be manned by a security guard, before being removed when he announced his departure. Such was the vitriol towards the Frenchman, his house was egged, and messages of hatred were sprayed on walls at the club’s stadium. Payet shirts were burned and placed on the floor for West Ham fans to wipe their feet and spit on as they entered the stadium concourse during matches.
There is still an element of doubt as to whether he will return, in part because he cast himself as an unpopular figure. In addition, West Ham may be unwilling to meet his wage demands. For many, paying such an unreliable and volatile character a hefty wage would be too much of a risk. Personally, I would also question his reasoning for wanting to return.
He jumped ship when West Ham were contenders for relegation, because it threatened his place in the French national team, and now they have a Premier League-winning manager, who will be spending to strengthen the squad, he suddenly wants to come back. Who’s to say that if West Ham struggle in the future, he won’t demand to leave again?
When your club’s place in top flight football is at risk, you want a player who is willing to give his all to secure it – not one who is too busy worrying whether he’ll get picked for his national team (even though he didn’t get picked for France’s 23-man squad at the World Cup anyway).
Overlooking his attitude because of his skill?
West Ham fans wanting Payet back, it seems, are happy to ignore his juvenile and disloyal behaviour because of his talent.
I understand wanting to overlook the indiscretions and character of a player because they do amazing things on the pitch – I’m a Chelsea fan after all, and we’ve had more than our fair share of egos and unruly behaviour.
But there are some things fans shouldn’t ignore, such as players refusing to do their job. Payet isolated himself to the point of refusing to speak to his own team-mates for 2 months, before paying his then club back his wages for January.
Understandably, some were sad rather than angry that he left, because, after all, he had just been voted Hammer of the Year. He scored 11 goals in less than 50 games – many of which were fantastic free kicks. But are you honestly telling me that you can overlook a player telling your club’s manager they would gladly feign injury if necessary, just because they’re good at taking free kicks?
West Ham are a club on the up, by all accounts. A great new manager, a board that seem more receptive to the mood of the fanbase, and some decent signings already secured – with a promise of more ambition to come. As a club, they could take the moral high-ground after Payet’s departure, having done nothing wrong. Payet has clearly now discovered that, as the saying goes, the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and West Ham should have more pride than to let him come crawling back.
Editorial credit: Vlad1988 / Shutterstock.com