West Ham have a new hero. A midfielder with such skill – and passion – that he ranks with the greats of our club. I’m talking midfield creatives here, so the World Cup 66 trio aren’t involved. We are talking about Trevor Brooking, Alan Devonshire, Paolo di Canio, Joe Cole.
And I’m talking now about Dimitri Payet.
In the summer the club finally got rid of Sam Allardyce as manager. The anti-football, percentage man. Keeps you in the top division, yes, but kills the joy of the game. Of course we all love to win. But football is also about the excitement, the beauty, the creativity; marvelling at superb systems of play but also moments of individual inspiration. Our new manager, Slaven Bilic, understands that, believes it, and is also an ex-West Ham player. He understands and respects the West Ham way, which Big Sam never did.
And Dimitri Payet epitomises that way. The sheer joy of the game. Skill which is a good in itself, as well as a huge contribution to the team. Some of his moves this season have been truly audacious. His free kicks and set pieces generally are so precise, dangerous, that we have confidence that there may be a goal at any moment. And he tracks back, fights hard for the team. The fans have really taken to him. He is the symbol of the new era, the optimism, as we look forward to playing at the Olympic Stadium next season.
I can say that I haven’t been more excited by a West Ham player since the emergence of the young Joe Cole. Sadly he went to Chelsea, had some of the inventiveness knocked out of him to fit in with the Mourinho system, and never really fulfilled his immense potential, although he was still an outstanding player. Payet is a different case. He is 28 already. We bought him from Marseille. He had a bit of a reputation as a bad boy, a bit inconsistent. Neither has been evident at the Irons. He has quickly become the man around which most of the team’s play revolves. When he was injured, early this year, the team dipped, although they did well to hold on to draws, if not wins. Being West Ham, we still have bad games, but more than for a long time, we are bossing other teams – and entertaining. West Ham fans are happy again!
Our big fear, of course, is now that the biggest clubs will come calling, offering to increase his wages hugely. My hope is that, because he is 28 already, they may not be so keen. Also that he will realise that, as the top man at West Ham, and now our best-ever-paid player, he will be central to the team in the way that he could never be at Man Utd, City, Arsenal, Chelsea.
Fingers crossed, because, after two-thirds of the season Dimitri Payet is already a legend!