Overly long writings about West Ham United FC. This is the kind of thing you might like, if you like this kind of thing.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

West Ham And The Fallen Hero

Ever fallen in love with someone?
Ever fallen in love?
In love with someone, ever fallen in love
In love with someone, you shouldn't have fallen in love with?
- The Buzzcocks

Oh Dimitri. Say it ain't so. Not you. We've got a memorable song for you and everything.

At this point, the only surprising thing about Payet wanting to leave West Ham is that he didn't somehow injure Andy Carroll as he handed in the transfer request. 

The Broken Bridge

What a Stygian set of affairs. What a fuck up. What a disappointment. 

From the point that he smacked in that last minute winner for France in the opening game of Euro 2016 it has felt different. I suppose it's not hard to see why. At that moment, in the host country, in a city still reeling from terrorist atrocities, Dimitri Payet scored a wonder goal and elevated himself beyond West Ham and into the footballing stratosphere. By the time he struck, Pogba and Griezmann had already departed the stage and it was the kid from La Reunion who became a national hero. Suddenly he was being talked about as a transfer target for Real Madrid and Paris Saint Germain. We had all hitched our wagon to his star, with no notion of quite how far he would take us. 

On British TV Slaven Bilic was celebrating on an ITV table and somehow we convinced ourselves that this demonstrated a bond between them, or was symbolic of Payet being one of our own. The boy from La Reunion was now the boy from Loughton. Except in retrospect it now looks like Bilic was prostrating himself before a departing son. 

After Euro 2016 things suddenly took a turn for the strange. Payet wasn't popping up in the Club's endlessly cheery summer updates, nor was he playing in any pre-season games. His post tournament rest period went on so long that he wasn't fit to start our opening league game at Chelsea, and then was absent until the infamous Watford game on September 10th. Tellingly this was after the transfer window had closed, giving credence to the notion that he was unsettled even back then.

Naturally we started the season with all the impetus of a Jeremy Corbyn policy launch and by the end of September had lost four games in a row and five of our first six. If Payet was disaffected when the Club refused to sell him during the summer, then it's hard to imagine his mood being improved as Arthur Masuaku and Simone Zaza arrived and promptly started losing balls in the lake behind the goal at training. 

The Ruby In The Smoke

Thereafter followed his wonder goal against Middlesbrough when he scored the best individual goal I have seen since Di Canio's volley and he briefly seemed to be the energised talisman of last year. Looking back at old columns I can see that I described it thusly:

The H List - 3.10.16 - Middlesbrough

If you haven't seen this goal, stop reading and go and do it now. If you want yet more persuasion, imagine Beethoven being at a Robbie Williams concert and thinking "thank fuck I'm deaf", before walking on stage, pushing the fat prick off the side and sitting down and playing Symphony No.5 in full. That's what it was like.

The problem was that even though Payet seemed to have been reborn somewhat, the team were spiralling. The awful start had scuppered any fanciful notions of the Champions League, and with our summer signings being very Poundworld when they needed to be Waitrose it was hard to imagine any scenario in which we would be able to get Payet to stick around.

If there is one thing that football fans specialise in, however, it is widely misplaced optimism and thus there wasn't a widespread sense of fatalism. Most fans seemed distracted by the transfer failings, the stadium failings, the public communication failings and well, whatever failing we wanted to focus on. There was no shortage.

A memory of better times. October. 

Payet had been worrying me all season though, and I wrote this after the League Cup quarter final defeat at Man Utd. 

However underwhelmed he is by the team around him, he has to get on with it. I have written before that his sale was inevitable once it became clear that we were going to be a bottom half team this season, but what we cannot afford now is for Payet to go into a tailspin in pursuit of a move in January.

Please note, I'm not including this to make myself look prescient. I get stuff wrong constantly. I once described Gerard Pique as "presumably having a football career as a result of winning a competition on the back of a cereal packet" and Lassana Diarra as "being made entirely of pasta". 

The point is more that I write The H List in the immediate aftermath of each game and therefore the articles are supposed to reflect the emotional journey of being a West Ham fan. One week you're down, the next week you're down a bit further. That's how it goes. Reading back over the season so far there seems to have been plenty of games where Payet visibly looked distracted, half arsed and uninterested. By the time we got to Arsenal things seemed to have reached a nadir, although with West Ham that is always a dangerous thing to assume:

Farewell Payet then. I've said it for a few consecutive performances but he doesn't seem terribly perturbed by events unfolding around him.

By the time we got into the next transfer window, it simply seemed a matter of time:

Maybe I'm doing him a disservice, but Payet hasn't looked as sharp this year as he did last, and by the end of this game he was walking around with his hands on his hips like Robert Duvall on that beach in Apocalypse Now. I'd personally give him a rest on Friday night, as the last thing he needs now is another energy sapping defeat at our soul sapping stadium. If nothing else, none of this is helping his transfer value for the now inevitable summer departure.

Again, none of this makes me a remarkable soothsayer, it just makes me a cynic who happens to write down my opinion each game and therefore have a record of my thoughts on this particular topic. The signs have been there all season. 

I Was A Rat!

Much of my opinion on this was formed after the Bilic press conference, and my initial tendency was to side with Payet. That won't surprise many of you who have been reading recently and will know that I think the work of the Club hierarchy this season has been largely incompetent. 

Who could blame him for not wanting to play for this team? I don't want to watch them, so I get where he is coming from. The devil lies in the detail though. 

Has he said that he doesn't want to play or that he will not play? These are two subtly different things. I do not want to go to work on Monday but I will go. That is not the same thing as me refusing to go. 

After the bombshell of the Bilic presser, the story quickly became however that Payet was on strike. Looking back, Bilic does say that he is "refusing to play for the Club" and if that is indeed the case then it is inexcusably reprehensible. 

If Payet is indeed on strike then he is dead to me. I'm removing the tattoo, taking down the petition to rename the A406 as the "Payet > Ozil Highway" and renaming my youngest daughter. He can, in the common parlance of the time, do one. 

But there are two sides to every story and we have yet to hear his. It won't be long. Shortly we will doubtless see a promo interview on a French TV station talking about the unhappiness of his family, his unceasing love for the West Ham fans and how he just wants to go home. You can definitely get a decent tan in Loughton, but it ain't the Cote d'Azur, after all. 

It is not without irony that I link to this column by ExWHUEmployee at the West Ham way site. it contains far more background to the story and essentially states that Payet has been unhappy all season and is definitely on strike. I don't think releasing our transfer stories is helpful, but I can't deny that this kind of thing probably is useful for the Club given that they are now essentially in a PR war with their best player, which barely scrapes into the top ten most ridiculous things to have happened at West Ham in my lifetime. 

And what are we to make of it all?

Well, I don't blame Payet for being unhappy with the direction of the team. He is the best player and he is entitled to want the Club to surround him with good players. They have summarily failed to do that, and we all agree with him so it would be hypocrisy to say otherwise. 

The reality is that the Club would have been been better off selling him after Euro 2016, but they simply couldn't have done so. They were selling tickets to their new stadium on the basis of a Payet led team and would have been derided as small time shysters lacking ambition had they moved him on and replaced him with Robert Snodgrass. They might be about to do that now, but they've already sold their 50,000 season tickets.

I can't blame them for holding on to him. Anything else would have been met with opprobrium and immediately reminded West Ham fans everywhere of the Club's storied history of selling on any decent players as soon as they can. Sullivan and Gold were attempting to sell a vision of something different and thus their hands were tied. That decision came at a cost of millions as his transfer fee will undeniably be lower now than last summer, but it bought them some credibility with the fanbase that was crucial to filling the stadium. 

But all of these ignores a simple fact. Payet is paid £125,000 a week and was paid a £1m loyalty bonus just last year in a masterstroke of irony from his agent. He is fantastically remunerated by any standards, and to withhold his labour on these grounds is disgraceful, if utterly unsurprising behaviour. 

That said, I am afraid that I don't buy into the argument that he owes anybody loyalty. He has been well paid at West Ham and he has played well for West Ham. He is a French footballer seeking to maximise his career earnings, and was a well established player with Champions League experience and international caps before he joined us. We didn't put him on any map other than that of the English football world, and as a result this idea that we have elevated him is a bit incongruous. 

What he owes us is the simple half of his labour agreement. He signed a contract and it requires him to play football. So he should play fucking football until he signs with someone else. There are plenty of others out there who don't have the ability to play professional football and would love to like me, my daughters, my dad, Chris Smalling and 50,000 West Ham season ticket holders. He might be famously "naturally indifferent" but Payet is spitting in a lot of faces with this stance, with the greatest irony of all being that his manager came up with the template for hanging around to "save" a team and then fucking off for pastures new.

Not everyone is good enough to be a pro, Dimitri

The Subtle Knife 

Fair play to Marseille for their artful tapping up however. It remains to be seen whether they will get their man in this transfer window but they have done everything in their power. The manager, Rudi Garcia, and players are already making eyes at him via the press and doubtless there is plenty that has happened away from the public eye. 

I'd get angry but what's the point? UEFA don't give a shit and I would want us to do the same to a transfer target where it was the only way to get him. 

But it creates a painful, but unarguably fascinating, situation for the neutral. What do we do? Banishing Payet serves the purpose of calling his bluff by presumably fining him for each week that he refuses to play. If they are true to their word then that could save them about £3m in wages before a summer sale.

The issue is that with each passing week Payet gets less fit - a low base line to start with - and his fee decreases. Each week on strike renders him a bigger rebel and a bigger problem and therefore those dreams of getting £30m disappear into the dust. It is for that reason that I can actually see him playing for us again. 

Marseille's reported bid of £19m - or 69% of a Fellaini put another way - was a insult but indicative of how this thing works. Payet's agent is banking on his behaviour being so disruptive that the Club have no choice but to cut bait and offload him for a reduced fee. The tapping up club are happy as they shell out less in fees, and the agent and Payet get healthy sign on payments. It's worked for them twice before already and doubtless will work here. 

What a mess. What a Stygian mess. 

So, for once, I side with Sullivan. Send Payet to rot and tell anyone who wants to buy him the price is the price and any lowballing is an insult to the Club and the player by undervaluing him. 

Once the transfer window passes, then Payet faces six months without playing and, crucially, earning.  At some point there has to be some value to him in coming back into the fold, putting a bit more effort in and getting out of Dodge in the summer. 

Maybe that's all a bit fanciful. The better odds are surely on Marseille upping their bid to something like £25m and West Ham taking the option to let him go, but don't be surprised if we all get one last chance to boo him before June. Might make it a bit uncomfortable for him to walk past his inevitably defaced mural though...

The Tiger In The Well

The great irony of all of this is that the person who come out with the most credit is Slaven Bilic. Just a week ago he was within the crosshairs of the Board, with the Club taken the bizarre (*) decision to publish a Martin Samuel article  on the official site that essentially told the fans to stop whinging about the stadium and start laying the blame where it ought to be laid - with Bilic. 

(*) I say bizarre, but these days, perhaps not so much

With his emotional, wrought, dare I say it - passionate - press conference performance Bilic has bought himself some breathing space. Now he has his own scapegoat - "We lose Payet, but we might gain the team" he said during his elegiac address to the media. Clearly things haven't been copacetic behind the scenes for sometime but Bilic ironically has some leeway now. He can lay the blame for the disjointed performances, the lack of intensity in training and all other manner of issues at Payet's door and now he has to rebuild. A fanbase determined to brand Payet as a snake will probably afford that to him too. 

There's a lot to consider here, and ultimately there's a lot that we don't know. 

I suppose the piece that gets missed, but which is ultimately is the biggest cost is that paid by the fans. A reduced transfer fee doesn't annoy me too much as we'd only waste it anyway, and a loss of wages to a millionaire isn't a problem either. 

As a team we'll survive but probably worsen in the long run, especially as our attempt to replace him will be fraught with danger, likely be expensive and probably be a disaster.

But for the fans it's a kick in the teeth. My daughter was visibly upset when I told her, to try and forewarn against playground taunts. All those kids lost their hero this week and that's a great shame. We all remember the first time we lost a hero and it's painful. The realisation that the hero frozen on your wall is a drugs cheat, a racist, a sexual abuser or in the case of Paolo di Canio, a worryingly devout Fascist. 

Farewell then Dimitri. You gave us great joy and then you turned out to be just like the rest. We fell in love with someone we shouldn't have fallen in love with. 

What a mess.


  1. Anonymous5:42 PM

    Brilliant read.
    I honestly cannot see any rational in keeping him.
    Sell Payet now, get him off the wages and out of the headlines.

  2. Anonymous1:32 PM

    Great article

    I do think we should keep him. It is about setting a culture at the club and a message to all our players and other clubs that you cant just pick off our players at will.

    Yes we may lose a bit of money now but I would argue we would make that back in future by not allowing agents lower our players value.

    I remember Harry Rednapp saying selling Rio told every member of the squad that west ham is not a club to stay with if you want to go places.

    So let him go in the summer. There is no value to spending the money now anyway. Who would we get we couldn't anyway?!

    Hammer keith

  3. Yeah, I am not really sure that Marseille can afford him which is interesting, but I'd be surprised if he goes now. Either way though, a terrible mess.