Back in June 2015 the foundations had been put in place for West Ham to successfully embark on the most memorable journey in their modern history.
It can be claimed that the turning point for the Hammers was actually two years prior to that summer, when it was confirmed they would become the new primary tenants of the hugely controversial Olympic Stadium in Stratford.
But bricks and mortar do not signify a club’s true values and beliefs, nor does it play much of a role in what happens on the pitch, despite what West Ham fans will want you to believe this season.
The Hammers’ £10.7m capture of Dimitri Payet had gone relatively unnoticed in the Premier League. Fans of French football and those who actively seek to acknowledge that the beautiful game does indeed exist outside the confines of the Premier League, may have perhaps already known what to expect from the Frenchman at West Ham. But on the surface, many appeared to have turned a blind eye.
Payet’s journey from AS Saint-Philippe on the Island of Reunion to West Ham United is one that will have many no longer surprised at the manner of which he orchestrated a move back to France after just 18 months in London.
Payet once refused to turn up to training when Saint-Etienne would not sell him to Paris Saint-Germain during a January transfer window, a tantrum that saw him temporarily demoted to the club’s reserve team. At the end of the season he was eventually sold to Lille. It’s a scenario that bears many similarities to the one at West Ham that was so heavily publicised earlier in the year.
The midfielder’s West Ham career is one that perfectly resonates with tales of players who have begun their Hammers careers as heroes and ended with them being vilified for their behaviour. It doesn’t just happen at West Ham, it happens all over the world, but it’s a story Hammers fans can recall about so many of their former stars.
West Ham is a club that prides itself on family values. The club’s philosophy of playing good football dates back to the 1950’s when the self-styled ‘West Ham Way’ was born. For all the ridicule that term gets from rival fans and pundits alike, it is a brand of football that did once exist during the club’s most successful era.
However, since the glory days of 50s and 60s, and a briefly successful spell in the 80s, West Ham have had little to cheer about.
That is perhaps why the club and its fans celebrate the names they’ve had the pleasure of boasting in years gone by. The likes of Bobby Moore, Sir Trevor Brooking, Billy Bonds, Paolo Di Canio, Carlos Tevez and Mark Noble will go down in history as just a handful of the club’s greatest players.
Success and loyalty will have gone hand in hand for the first two or three names on that list, but the latter three only had loyalty and hard work to build their West Ham statuses on.
Indeed, Carlos Tevez’s arrival at West Ham came under extraordinary circumstances and he only lasted a season before he was moved on, but what he did for the Hammers and the way he continues to speak fondly of the club since only serves to elevate him to legendary status at the club.
Dimitri Payet had already found his name being spoken in the same breath as Tevez and Di Canio. Players of such calibre do not come around very often at West Ham, which is why the fans took to him so quickly.
His performances during West Ham’s final season at the Boleyn Ground became the symbol of the club’s transition between eras. Out with the old, in with the new.
The move to London Stadium is a result of some incredible ambition shown by West Ham’s owners to take the club to a level it could’ve only dreamt of before they swooped to save it from administration in 2010.
Payet had suddenly found himself cast as the poster boy of the club’s new-found ambition, the kind of player who would represent what West Ham fans and the rest of the world can come to expect in east London in the future.
With his name emblazoned all over the new stadium at the beginning of the 2016/17 season, everything was in place for West Ham to begin its most exciting journey with one of its most exciting ever players in tow.
The trouble was, their new icon’s performances for France at Euro 2016 during the summer had meant he was no longer just a hero and talisman for the Hammers, he was now one of the most famous faces in Europe and reportedly attracting interest from the world’s biggest football clubs.
Rumours of a move to the likes of Real Madrid, PSG and even Manchester United had the club slapping a £100m price tag on him and the man himself spoke of his love for West Ham in public.
Of course, Payet stayed beyond the summer but West Ham’s struggles to adapt to life in a new home clearly began to frustrate the man tasked with making it all happen for them. Apart from a rabona assist and a world class solo goal in a 1-1 draw at home to Middlesbrough, Payet’s impact on the side began to dwindle.
His body language began to suggest he was no longer interested in playing for the club. His comments of being bored at training and believing he could no longer improve at West Ham since his departure have confirmed it, but West Ham fans will see that as little consolation for the way in which he forced his way back to France.
Images of a disappointed and broken Slaven Bilic telling the press about Payet’s refusal to play for the club were hard to watch as West Ham fans quickly learned of how their new-found hero had betrayed them, stabbed them in the back for what he initially described as ‘family reasons’.
West Ham’s fans can rightly feel aggrieved by the events that took place in January of this year. During a difficult period in the season, they were looking in Payet’s direction for some magic, some inspiration. The kind he so regularly produced for them during that memorable Farewell Boleyn campaign just months before.
Instead they were witnessing a player they worshipped show the same kind of disrespect towards them that led them to rename Paul Ince ‘Judas’ following his controversial transfer to Manchester United way back in 1989.
Payet had gone from signing an improved £125k-a-week contract at the club in January 2016 to saying he loved the club in July 2016 to refusing to play for them and demanding to be sold back to Marseille in January 2017. In 12 full months his West Ham career had gone full cycle and still now it’s hard to really make sense of it all.
Since his departure, Dimitri Payet has claimed that it was the moment when the post was named as Man of the Match in West Ham’s 1-0 home victory over Hull City that sparked his reasons for wanting to leave. He has a point, that moment can be added to a long list of blunders the club has been criticised for since moving to London Stadium.
But while West Ham’s social media activity can be inexcusable at times, a player refusing to play for a club that pays him £125k-a-week and betraying the very fans that worshipped him, sung his name even louder than any of his teammates’ for 18 months, is just as inexcusable.
Payet now joins the likes of Paul Ince, Frank Lampard and to an extent Jermain Defoe on the list of players who are ridiculed and hated among West Ham supporters. They too were seen to have betrayed the club in a time when fans needed them to step up and show their commitment to the cause.
Instead, after everything that has been said ,and as quickly as the club managed to completely remove all trace of his existence, Payet’s reputation as the club’s poster boy for a new era is in tatters forever.
It’s now up to the next fan-favourite to take the baton. Whoever that turns out to be, they must look back at old heroes and choose the route they’d prefer.
West Ham fans never forget and they rarely forgive, just ask Paul Ince and Frank Lampard.