“The streets won’t forget”. The phrase that has been doing the rounds on Twitter more than ever before now. Essentially players who were here for a short period, but left their mark on English football. We’ve got nothing else to talk about, but reminisce about the past. Football will be back, one day. Anyway, we’ve all seen at least one post on Twitter about a former Premier League player “the streets won’t forget”. Michu, Ben Arfa, Adel Taarabt, Demba Ba all spring to mind. But the most recent player that springs to mind as part of this ‘group’ is Dimitri Payet.
2015/16 – West Ham’s talisman
The legacy the 33 year old Marseille winger has left in the Premier League is both positive and negative. Everyone remembers how good he was in his one and a half years in the Premier League. However, the memories of how he forced his move back to France are also prevalent. A sour taste left in the mouth of Hammers fans who adored him during his short stint in England. They can’t deny how incredible Payet was in 2015/16:
The French international signed for the Hammers in the summer of 2015. With just an €11 million fee from Marseille, expectations weren’t sky high. He had come off the back of a great season in Ligue 1. But transitioning from the French League to the English top flight hadn’t historically been easy, as his then and now teammate Florian Thauvin knows. What Payet did in the season that followed was completely unprecedented.
Regardless of which team you supported, the Frenchman was a joy to watch in action. Well, unless of course your side were against him. Time and time again, he helped drag that West Ham team to an impressive 7th place finish. Quite the contrast to now where they’re fighting to survive in the league. Evidently a class above whenever he touched the ball.
Dimitri Payet – Technically gifted
To start with, the silky footwork. Averaging 2.2 dribbles per game, Payet wasn’t the quickest or the strongest. But his ability on the ball was sublime. Drag-backs, delicate flicks, chops, even the most subtle body feints, the former Nantes midfielder had it all in his locker, leaving opposition defenders in a tangle. Moreover, he was never wasteful and knew exactly when to release the ball, a testament to his awareness and football IQ.
Then there was Payet’s incredible passing. Though 12 assists is impressive, the Marseille winger could’ve broken Thierry Henry’s record in a team with better finishers. Of course that’s an obvious statement that you could apply to the likes of Mesut Ozil too. But the French international was averaging a staggering 4 KEY PASSES per game. Everything went through Payet in that West Ham side. Making it tick, driving the team forward, crosses from out wide and deadly through balls. He was without doubt their sides creative spark. You look at those killer passes against Liverpool and Bournemouth in the video. The vision and play-making on display from the former Lille midfielder was world class in 2015/16.
Payet’s finishing for the Hammers was superb as well. The initial movement to get into goal scoring positions highlights how well he read the game. Whether it was beating a player off the dribble or running into pockets of space, the Frenchman found a way to get into the box, managing 2.3 shots per game from midfield. The composure he showed in the box too, either to pick the perfect pass or put the ball in the back of net, gave confidence to the rest of the team that they could get over the line in matches they should’ve have taken points in. The fact the AS Excelsior youth product was their joint highest goal scorer in the Premier League in 2015/16 says it all really. Star player would be an understatement.
Dimitri Payet – The free-kick icon
But what Payet was known for the most that season was his outstanding set piece ability. On his debut against Arsenal at the Emirates, he warned the league of what was to come from dead balls with a whipping delivery into the box headed in by Kouyate.
Free-kicks were like penalties for the French international. Against Bournemouth, a brilliant curling strike off the bar and in. But the one against Palace is iconic. How he managed to bend the ball into the far corner, completely wrong footing the keeper from such a short distance was genius. Against Manchester United in the FA Cup too. To beat a prime David De Gea from 30 yards with a whipping free-kick off the post was truly magnificent. Payet is the epitome of a technically gifted player and a set piece specialist. You just run out of words to describe him.
The streets truly won’t forget Dimitri Payet. It’s such a shame he got homesick and went back to Ligue 1, especially halfway through what was set to be another great season in 2016/17. What a privilege it was to watch him for his short time in the league. West Ham could really do with him right now!
For more articles on the beautiful game, follow us on Twitter @TasteofFtbl