With the dust settling on the Dimitri Payet situation, West Ham's future without the Frenchman continues to look much clearer. Saturday's 3-0 victory over Crystal Palace was the first indication of life post-Payet and it certainly did not look as bleak as many had suggested. In fact, I hope this will be the last time I write about Payet, because the team showed that we are much better without him. In all honesty, all this talk of Payet is beginning to get a bit boring and, to many of us, he is no longer a part of West Ham. It has been clear that there has been something going on behind the scenes at West Ham and if there is one word that can be used to describe this season it would be unsettled. The extent to which Payet has caused this disruption will only be known once the player inevitability leaves the club.
As I have previously said, it seems obvious that Marseille have tapped the player up with players and fans already anticipating his return and the club itself were quick to try and get their former star on the cheap. West Ham's official stance on the situation appears to have loosened just as the supporters has. The anger stemming from Payet's betrayal saw the immediate response be to hold 'Le Sulk' to his recently signed long-term contract (currently with four-and-a-half years still on it) and let him rot in the reserves. Truthfully, the owners and the manager should be admired with their handling of the situation. Had they conceded that they wanted the player out of the club, they might have been forced to sell the player for a lower price than they would have otherwise received.
Saying that, it still has not stopped Marseille from testing the water with a £19 million and £20 million bid. Rumours of his family moving back to France and Payet's claims that he only wants to leave for Marseille suggest that there is only one destination for the player. Officials from the two clubs have already met to negotiate a transfer fee, but West Ham have made it abundantly clear that is a case of Marseille meeting their demands as opposed to the former wanting a quick sale. It really would not be surprising to see the deal fall through and Payet to be stuck in limbo if David Sullivan's hard-ball tactics are anything to go by. Plus, the player realistically only has two or three years left at the top level, so it is possible that he could disappear just as quickly as he came to relevance at West Ham.
[caption id="attachment_6340" align="aligncenter" width="335"] Payet has already united the fans against him (Credit: Mac Morrison)[/caption]
There has been a lot of talk on social media about the Frenchman apologising. It is difficult to believe personal reasons have been the sole driving force behind his behaviour, especially when you consider this is not the first time he has acted like this. Regardless of what happens next, there should be one certainty. Dimitri Payet should never play for West Ham again. Some journalists (who shall remain nameless) have suggested that everything would be forgotten if Payet was to take to the field again and others have claimed there is no loyalty left in the game. The former shows a complete misunderstanding of West Ham supporters, though that is unsurprising given the fact he compares the situation to Chris Martin's loan at Fulham. The latter might be true among players, but it is still a trait many supporters value - perhaps even more so at West Ham with the likes of Billy Bonds and Trevor Brooking having their talents elevated by the fact they stayed with the club. When all this is said and done, we might actually be willing to thank Payet. Not for the goals or moments of magic, but for something far greater. This whole saga has made it all feel like the fans have their West Ham United back.
For the first time this season, the board, the manager, the players and the supporters are all united. That was shown in the second half against Palace. Everyone was playing for each other on the pitch and the atmosphere itself was arguably the best the London Stadium has produced so far. It felt like West Ham again. The passion of Feghouli, Carroll and Lanzini's celebrations embodied that. Payet's (hopefully soon-to-be former) teammates seem relieved that everything is out in the open. Before, they seemed desperate to get the ball to Payet and that, whilst occasionally paying off, was detrimental to the team's overall performance on the pitch. This season a temperamental Payet has ensured that's been the case for many games this season.
[caption id="attachment_6338" align="aligncenter" width="409"] Lanzini looks on, but he is set to shine in Payet's absence (Credit: @cfcunofficial)[/caption]
On the pitch, Manuel Lanzini is primed to benefit most from Payet's departure. The Argentinian has already made a name for himself in East London, but it is fair to say he has still found himself in Payet's shadow. At times, it has felt like he has been played out of position to accommodate the playmaker. Lanzini would thrive if deployed in a free role in midfield and it might allow him to achieve some consistency to his game. He might only be 23 years old, but Bilic needs to give the 'Jewel' a licence to roam freely. It would certainly get the best out of the player and the opposition would struggle to contain him - as has already been proven against Palace.
Bilic also looks like a changed man on the touchline. Gone was the brooding and frustrating figure that has marshaled the Hammers bench, he demonstrated an energy and passion that has rarely been seen since last season. He had almost become disillusioned after seeing the sudden breakdown of a relationship with a player he valued so highly. The team responded and that can only spell the beginning of better things from them and Bilic.
West Ham's willingness to part with last season's 'Hammer of the Year' has also grown in appeal. Whilst I think the club should be aiming to cash in for more than £30 million (a measly sum when you consider that Yannick Bolasie and Moussa Sissoko moved for the same amount in the summer), it could act as a catalyst for better things. A similar thing happened at Tottenham with the money from the then-world record transfer of Gareth Bale being spent across the team. Payet might not go for a sum anywhere near that, but it would be a considerable amount nonetheless. It should be enough - when combined with the money that should be available (e.g. what was saved on Zaza, the £10 million for Tomkins, etc) - to finally bring in the players the squad has been crying out for since last season.
The pursuit of a natural goalscorer was an issue even before David Gold & Sullivan took over. Not only should a decent replacement for the want-away star be signed, a right-back, a centre-back and a marquee January signing should also be targeted. Robert Snodgrass fits the bill as a replacement (although it will take more than £3 million), but recent links to Swansea's Gylfi Sigurdsson would represent both shrewd and smart business - words not commonly associated with West Ham in recent transfer windows. Sigurdsson would be an alternative to the club's existing midfielders. He would represent something entirely different to Payet and that could be refreshing after all this recent drama.
West Ham might have lost their former star, but they have gained something far more invaluable: a team.
Is this the start of a new, positive chapter for West Ham? Do you think Payet has been holding them back this season? Let us know your thoughts and who you think West Ham should target in the comments below!