We have a nominee, a Ballon d’Or nominee, I just don’t think you understand…
But seriously, I’m not sure some do understand.
Dimitri Payet is world class. He is without doubt our best player. He is the catalyst that the team look to. Last year, his virtuoso debut against Arsenal was the spark that ignited our best season in the Premier League era.
His statistics in terms of goals and assists, coupled with an impressive contribution to France’s march to the Euro 16 final, earned him his place on the shortlist of the world’s best players.
This season has been different in many ways. Firstly, he wasn’t available for the opening day away trip to Chelsea, or for our disappointing tilt at the Europa League. He also missed a few of our opening fixture as our season stuttered in its infancy.
So by the time he was fit again, the team was relieved to see the return of our talismanic creator, and have been looking to him to pull us out of the mire ever since. Sometimes glaringly so.
Whereas last year the confidence was high and people where willing to take on shots and try risky through balls to send a team mate through on goal, players are now second guessing themselves and deciding that they’ll leave it to Dimi.
And it’s not that he hasn’t been trying. Payet is still a league leader in chances created but this season, rather than having Diafra Sakho or Andy Carroll on the end of his crosses and passes – not to mention their hold up play that enables him to join in with the attacks he starts – he has had Simone Zaza and Jonathan Calleri, who haven’t hit the ground running, Ashley Fletcher, who is promising but very raw, or Michail Antonio, who himself is adapting to the role of striker.
If even half of the chances he’s carved out for us had been converted, we would be in a much stronger position than we currently find ourselves in. As it is, they are going unrewarded and so it is easy to over look his contribution.
This has led to criticism that he is no longer bothered, that he doesn’t want to be here and that he is no longer working for the team.
The accusation that he doesn’t track back is ridiculous. He has never really tracked back, it’s just that last year, with more results going our way, we were more willing to over look it.
But in reality, it’s the equivalent of moaning that Winston Reid doesn’t score more often. Yes, it will happen occasionally, but it isn’t in his job description.
Payet’s job is to move us forward, be the link between the back and the front and last year he was often the instigator of many of our pacy counter attacks. He can’t do that and be the man getting stuck in to win the ball back in the first place. Players of his calibre have to be given more of a free role.
It’s not that he doesn’t work as hard, just that his work is done elsewhere. Look at Paolo Di Canio, Joe Cole before his creativity was coached out of him by Jose Mourinho and more contemporary counter parts like Mesut Ozil, Philippe Coutinho and David Silva – they’re never praised for their work rate but instead for their contribution in attack, for the magic moments that only they could do, moments that make them – and him – part of the world’s elite.
We have to remember what made us fall in love with Dimi in the first place, his ability to create something out of nothing, to turn an opponent inside out or to score a wonder goal. It was his coat tails that the rest of us, including his teammates, clung to last year as we rode to one of our best seasons ever.
We shouldn’t complain or blame him if at present, his teammates are leaving him to ride alone. We should be grateful that we have one of the best players in the world and hope that his magic rubs off on the rest like it did last year.