Why are Hammers in a fuss over Payet?
EARLIER this week, a Frenchman moved from one club to another. Midway through his contract, Manchester United decided they did not need Morgan Schneiderlin any more so they moved him on into the willing hands of Everton. There was no fuss and nor should there have been. It is the way football works.
When a club decide they do not want a player any more, they get rid of him. It doesn’t matter how long his contract has to run.
If he doesn’t want to go, there are ways and means of persuading him it really is in his best interests to leave. Making him train with the kids is a favourite.
He might not have any desire to leave. It might uproot his family, force him to take his kids out of the school they are happy in, move him to an area where he doesn’t want to live. But that’s a footballer’s life. Transitory and peripatetic and, if you are in the Premier League, extremely well paid.
So why is everyone getting so awfully upset about another Frenchman, Dimitri Payet, and his apparent desire to leave West Ham? Loyalty has to cut both ways and if clubs do not show any loyalty to players or managers, why should players show any loyalty to them?
West Ham’s fans have taken Payet to their hearts and sung his song and thrilled to his world-class skills, so you have to feel for them.
He was supposed to be the marquee player to lead them into the brave new world of their move to London Stadium and beyond and, now that he wants to go, the misery of that stadium move has been multiplied.
The West Ham board gets no sympathy. For a start, they are currently trying to sign striker Scott Hogan, who is under contract to Brentford. West Ham do not appear to be overly concerned with the concept of Hogan’s loyalty.
They don’t seem to care too much about the effect on the Championship side or how Brentford’s fans will feel about the loss of a player who was looked after by the club for 19 months while he recovered from a knee injury.
West Ham have also submitted a bid for Hull’s Robert Snodgrass. OK, the offer was derisory and has been treated with the wider contempt it deserved, but Snodgrass is just about the only thing standing between Hull’s fans and relegation.
When a club want to get rid of a player, they get rid of him. When a player wants to leave, he usually leaves. People will accuse Payet of breaking his contract but he is no more breaking his contract than a club break a player’s contract when they sell him.
West Ham do not have to sell Payet. They can hold him to his contract. Just the same as Chelsea will be able to hold Diego Costa to his contract even if interest from China hardens up and his row with Antonio Conte gets worse. But clubs rarely do that just as players rarely stay where they are not wanted.
It is little consolation for their fans but, in this instance, West Ham are just the biter bit. Some memories in football are blissfully short but it was only in June 2015 that West Ham agreed a deal with Payet behind the back of his club, Marseille, where he was a crowd favourite. Marseille were bounced into selling him.
So why should we feel any sympathy for West Ham if, as reports suggest, Marseille have returned the favour?
He has found himself stuck at a club whose board decided to move to an athletics stadium and prepared for it so badly that their season has descended into a mess.
It is not really much of a surprise that Payet wants out.
He may not be better than Zinedine Zidane, as the song suggests, but he clearly feels he deserves a more fitting stage.
A transfer window is always a giddy festival of separating players from their allegiances and prising them from fans who idolise them. It’s a sick kind of romance. All Payet is doing is making the first move.