West Ham have had a truly remarkable season in the Premier League.
Leicester’s unlikely title bid has rightly stolen most of the plaudits, but the Irons, almost under the radar for much of the campaign, have been steadily winning games and now find themselves in a great position.
Slaven Bilic’s men are mixing it with Manchester’s big two in the fight for Champions League football and if results go their way at the weekend, they could leapfrog United into fifth place with five games to play.
There have been plenty of standout performers in the Hammers’ ranks, but the diminutive Dimitri Payet stands head and shoulders above the rest.
Sir Alex Ferguson famously referred to Eric Cantona as the “the catalyst” that sparked success for his team. Payet has been a revelation in the same mould. His contribution to Bilic’s side this term is all the more incredible given that he suffered a five-week injury lay off mid-season.
So good has the Frenchman been, so pleasing on the eye his play, that he has been the subject of multiple rumours linking him with the exit door, despite being in his first season with the club.
Could the West Ham faithful really lose their star man after such a short love affair, or will Payet be lighting up the Olympic Stadium for years to come?
Some would argue that whether or not the East London outfit can secure Champions League football will be the deciding factor. The talent of the Reunion-born man and his ability to be a match winner over the remaining games would therefore go some way towards defining his own fate.
A strong showing from the playmaker at Euro 2016 with France would also increase interest in his services.
With Payet though, things are not that clear cut. If he were a younger player, then a move would be much more likely, while in another season, dominated by the usual forces in the Premier League, things might be different, too.
This summer though, those clubs that would normally be potential destinations, could well find that their stock has fallen below that of Payet’s current employers. West Ham are likely to finish above Chelsea for example, and it is not unlikely that they could also surpass one, or both, of the Manchester powers.
The former Marseille man is also a late bloomer and at 29 years old is undoubtedly a player at his peak. While he would represent a quality signing for most teams, one thing he certainly would not be is an investment, nor will he prove to be long-term value for money.
He has 18 international caps, but did not make his debut for Les Bleus until late in 2010 and the £14m West Ham forked out to acquire him was by no means a sure bet. Having floated around in French football for most of his career, Payet had one standout season with Marseille which prompted the Upton Park outfit to produce the cash. In an almost unique turn of events, the attacking midfielder has gathered further momentum and has been even better since his move to England.
With considerable delay, the former Lille and St-Etienne man has become the player he always promised to be. His current form, however superb, is surely the peak of his powers.
West Ham also had the good sense to tie down their talisman in February this year to a deal, which will keep him at the club until 2021. By that time, Payet will be 34. This means that only a huge offer for a player nearing 30 would release him for transfer. Such a bid is unlikely from most of Europe and reduces the number of potential suitors dramatically.
Should West Ham finish in the top four then the chances of Payet moving to another English club would be virtually zero.
Looking abroad, the player has been linked with PSG, but apart from that the big clubs around Europe seem like non starters.
At this stage of his career, and in the form of his life, Payet needs to be virtually guaranteed a starting berth. West Ham can offer that.
Clubs currently just below the very top echelon of the European game – such as the Italian heavyweights, Borussia Dortmund or perhaps Atletico Madrid – would all be places a player with such natural ability could continue to flourish.
But in reality, at the present time they can guarantee little more than West Ham, who could have the potential to become a genuine European name virtually overnight.
They are set to move into a new stadium, have a young, talented and energetic manager, a passionate fan base and the bright lights of London to attract talent.
A top four finish would all but guarantee Payet’s commitment to a club on the up and even if they just miss out, West Ham United remains a place he would surely be keen to stay.