Dimitri Payet’s departure from West Ham this week ended a tumultuous few weeks for the club since the Frenchman told manager Slaven Bilic that he did not want to play for the club again. After Marseille sealed the £25m transfer, Hammers co-owner David Sullivan spoke out about the 29 year old’s attitude and why he was willing to keep the midfielder in order to make an example out of him.
It was a very candid comment from Sullivan; something that other Premier League chairman have probably felt tempted to say after their own players have handed transfer requests and forced through moves to other clubs. Still, whether it would have been a good decision to let your star player rot in the reserves for the rest of the season as a matter of principle, I am not so sure.
Jean-Marc Bosman’s landmark ruling in 1995 paved the way for player power in the modern game. Contracts are simply a piece of paper, and loyalties to one club are very much a thing of the past for the vast majority of players. Payet had given Hammers fans some memorable moments in his 18 months in England but his career has been one of constant upheaval; it would have been the exception rather than the rule if he had stayed for much longer. Payet’s longest spell was at Saint Etienne (four years). He spells at Nantes, Lille and his first spell at Marseille lasted two.
Despite the huge contract West Ham gave the midfielder last February, and the love that Hammers fans gave him, it seems clear Payet had other priorities. He doesn’t seem to get sentimentally attached to a club; his footballing career is very much a job to him, and no matter how long he spent ostracised in West Ham Under 23s, his view on life and the game probably would not have changed.
Manager Slaven Bilic and the players knew there was no way back for him once he refused to play against Crystal Palace, and it was the right thing to get him out of the club as soon as possible, no matter the cost to the Hammers.
In fact it could be argued that West Ham’s players have become more of a unit since the start of the Payet saga. Andy Carroll mentioned that he feels the team have become a tight knit group as a result. Since Payet’s last game in the 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup, the Hammers have won both Premier League matches.
Certainly it could be argued that West Ham may have held out for a lot more money than the £25million that they eventually received. But Payet had put them in a difficult position. Firstly his refusal to play meant that he wasn’t of value to them on the playing side. But secondly, his apparent desire to return home to France with Marseille the only willing bidder, meant that the London club did not have the strongest hand to play in negotiations.
With deadline day approaching, and the Ligue One side sticking to their £25m final offer, it seemed like the best choice available to the club. You either have an unusable player eating up wages for six months until the summer, or you have a larger pot of cash to spend on new signings. It may not be used during this transfer window but at the end of the season, when better options are available, Slaven Bilic can begin to build a squad that, without Payet, will be committed to the cause and able to move the club forward.