On the back of some commanding performances, Dimitri Payet has attracted interest from some rather wealthy suitors. Chelsea and Real Madrid are amongst those looking to acquire him this summer. Three years ago he was very much lacking direction but now things are quite the opposite. But can the previously unmanageable talent succeed at a so-called superclub?
Manager Didier Deschamps had confined Dimitri Payet’s creative exploits to the bench until around the hour mark on Sunday. Moments before the West Ham star was brought into play against Switzerland he exchanged a glance with his manager. Deschamps gave him an encouraging jeer and a look of bewildering confidence that suggested there was no alternative but for France to win now. Eighteen months after leaving his France career in doubt, Payet has become no less than a saviour.
Dimitri Payet’s goals for #FRA have come in the following minutes:
The 64th minute now… pic.twitter.com/8bdRnHks8L
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 19, 2016
Leading up to the competition Paul Pogba was handed responsibility of poster boy for this Euros. In an ostentatious display of patriotism the midfielder entered the tournament with Gallic rooster shaved into the side of his head, highlighted by the blue white and red of the flag. His haircuts and dance moves undoubtedly captured crowd’s approbation but his performance did not. Eager to attach his name to a memorable night, his game suffered.
That night could easily have been one to forget for Pogba and his team mates had Payet not been afforded a moment to decide and execute an outrageous winner to get Deschamps’s team off and running. That goal and performance dethroned Pogba and Payet has side-stepped and jinked into his place. That’s what he’s done over the last couple of seasons: entering something unfamiliar and making it his own.
Dimitri Payet’s game by numbers vs. #ROU:
8 chances created
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 10, 2016
Under Marcelo Bielsa at Marseille he became the critical element to an energetic attack. More so the two confrontational characters did not clash but created music. “I clicked with him [Bielsa],” Payet told L’Equipe. “He made me more mature and consistent. He put order into my game. I still have his advice in my head.” A professional relationship like none he had experienced before and even less one that he engaged with quite as much. Developing a new attitude and understanding helped refine the attacking midfielder’s game.
Leaving the Vélodrome in Marseille for the final season at Boleyn Ground, the Réunion Island native was equipped to be used in a similar way. Under Slaven Bilić he’s played a free roaming role in a mobile system that accommodates his tendency to drift infield. It’s something that he naturally does and so managers just play around it. Having created the most chances amongst colleagues in Europe’s top leagues since the 2013/14 season that’s understandable.
France have had some confusion with it since Blaise Matuidi pushes so far forward and Antoine Griezmann like occupying the centre but amongst the chaos Payet has gone about his business and been consistent and looked like the closest thing to a creator-in-chief. This leadership-by-display has given certainty to a France squad that can sometimes look unsure of itself and that becomes an irreplaceable asset when the team need digging out of a hole.
This all points into the direction of the flexibility, ambition and mindset to take a step up. But he can’t just slot into any team. At Real Madrid Zidane has limited James Rodriguez’s and Isco’s playing time. Establishing a balance in the centre was easier with the addition of Casemiro than an attacking midfielder. He cannot fit on the left because Cristiano Ronaldo already has exclusive rights to drifting central from there. That attack screams for pace up front and that’s not something Payet provides. This doesn’t rule out the possibility of Zidane having to do his job and operate with what he is given.
That other popular transfer link was to Antonio Conte’s Chelsea. They could do with a central playmaker, considering Oscar hasn’t fulfilled his potential and Cesc Fabregas isn’t an enthralling option in comparison. Payet’s been well drilled under the stewardship of Bielsa and can cope in a demanding environment like the Italian creates amongst his squads.
It’s quite clear that Payet has the talent to force managers to enable his optimum playing level for his benefit and, more broadly speaking, the team. But with West Ham moving into a new stadium with little financial strain, the excitement of Bilic and some smart summer dealings he may be convinced to stay in East London for another season at least.