Greedy Traitor Or Homesick Lost Soul? The Dimitri Payet Saga Is All About Perception

08/02/2017 17:16 GMT | Updated 09/02/2018 10:12 GMT
Jean-Paul Pelissier / Reuters

'Pure Greed 1-0 Loyalty', read one less than complimentary Sunday newspaper headline in the aftermath of Slaven Bilic's shock revelation earlier this month that Dimitri Payet had so boldly informed West Ham that he actively wants to leave the club as soon as possible.

Payet has been thoroughly slated by the British media, derided as a snake and a traitor by Hammers fans left feeling betrayed - Bilic himself used words such as 'angry' and 'let down' - and has seen his professional reputation altogether sullied by the whole unsavoury affair.

But let's pause for a moment and take the time to actually consider if the player really is the awful monster he has been so eagerly portrayed as.

Consider a hypothetical example regarding Joe Hart. The England goalkeeper is currently on loan with Torino and will have to decide his next step at the end of the season. It may well be that having enjoyed Italy during his brief stay he entertains the notion of signing with another foreign club, this time on a permanent deal as Manchester City remove him from their books.

That could be a handful of relatively wealthy clubs in Spain, France, maybe Germany. For argument's sake, let's say that Monaco spy an opportunity and make Hart one of the highest paid goalkeepers in the world and reward their new arrival with a handsome signing bonus.

What if, for whatever reason, a year down the line he decides he doesn't like it and he's unsettled in an alien environment? He might miss home after being away from England for what will by then have been an extended period; he may find any number of things difficult.

At that point he would tell the club he wants to leave - it might be that sensing his unhappiness with Monaco, Hart's agent chooses to sound out a Premier League club, or an on-the-ball Premier League club sounds him out, and receives a tempting offer. It perhaps wouldn't be as good as the existing deal at Monaco thanks to higher taxation, but still quite lucrative.

This writer has no doubt that Hart, 'Our Joe', would be welcomed back to England as a returning hero from a crusade abroad, with the vast majority of people not giving a second thought to him putting Monaco through the mill, all because he wanted to go home.

Now answer this question, is the Payet saga really much different to that hypothetical example?

It isn't, and yet the way it has been perceived is a polar opposite. Payet's situation can surely have little to do with 'pure greed', one of the key phrases in the soundtrack of this continuing saga. He's not quite the 'traitor' either considering he's just like any number of foreign players at English clubs who move on relatively quickly. It's a job, he has no ties to West Ham.

And it's not as if was holding out for a big money move to Real Madrid, Barcelona, China, or another Premier League side. What he specifically wanted was a move back to Marseille, the club that he possibly never would have left in 2015 had they not been rapidly sinking in increasing financial difficulty. More generally, he wanted to go somewhere more familiar. Now he has done that. No one can possibly begrudge it him.

Payet definitely hasn't handled things as he should have - 'downing tools' has also been the source of much gripe. Then again, maybe he didn't expect Bilic and the club to subsequently throw him under the bus in a very public way - that was hardly the most professional thing to do on their part, although it certainly now legitimised selling him in the eyes of fans.

He will earn less money at Marseille than he was on at West Ham. There was, of course, no reason for him to turn down that contract last season when he was happier, and he would have been criticised just as much at the time for not accepting it.

To go back to the hypothetical Joe Hart example once more, how many British newspapers would slam Hart for taking any bonuses from Monaco and then not returning them? The French media might take a dim view, but it wouldn't even be mentioned in the British press, yet the subject of a £1million bonus paid to Payet has certainly come up enough times.

This whole thing, as with everything, is all about perception. Two similar scenarios. Two entirely different reactions.