17th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.
When speaking in an interview with L'Equipe, Dimitri Payet made it abundantly clear how happy he was to leave West Ham in January to rejoin his former club, Marseille.
Following a sensational debut season in the Premier League, where he notched an impressive nine goals and 12 assists, a disgruntled Payet bemoaned the Hammers' lack of ambition this term, though, even claiming he was bored by Slaven Bilic's style of play. "I didn't want to play the role of also-rans in the Premier League any more," he divulged.
"I didn't like the way we approached matches, the defensive system put in place. With a 5-4-1 in front of our penalty area, I could have all the freedom in the world, but it made it difficult to express myself. You could say I was bored, yes. I went through matches without enjoying it.
"The choice was quickly made. If I had waited six months, I would have wasted six months."
Although Marseille are going through somewhat of a rebuilding phase as they hope to return to their rightful place in the upper echelons of French football, the chance to return to OM, where he's previously played some of his best football, and to work under Rudi Garcia, was an opportunity he couldn't resist.
Playing under Garcia, who prefers technical, slick passing football was undoubtedly a key determining factor for the enigmatic 29-year-old, knowing Garcia's style and the freedom he'd be afforded would be perfect for him.
Despite his side's inconsistent results, Payet's made a solid impact since arriving, producing some customary moments of magic and promising early signs, while adding two goals and two assists in his six starts. At the weekend in the Olympians' 3-0 dismantling of Angers, Payet built on his strong start, putting in an excellent attacking display that was littered with dynamism and skill.
Although slated as operating on the left wing for Marseille, Payet merely used this as a platform from which to cut inside from. With he and right winger, Florian Thauvin, both venturing infield from wide, Marseille looked to overload the 10 spaces in behind Angers' sole defensive midfielder, Baptiste Santamaria. Upon combining the presence of OM trequartista, Morgan Sanson, and this enabled the home side to often manufacture 3v1 situations and exploit the vast space between Santamaria and his defensive line.
The stretching runs of pacey striker Remy Cabella in behind Angers' backline only served to widen this gap, thus giving the aforementioned trio even more room to work in.
Payet and his colleagues, who further complicated things by performing subtle interchanges of position, could now use their strong dribbling qualities and combination play to unlock Les Scoistes in the final third. Payet, in particular used his explosive skillset to great use, persistently using his unpredictability on the dribble and ingenuitive passing repertoire to wreak havoc on his adversaries.
His game high five key passes and two assists provided tangible evidence of his strength in this area. Firstly, his cunning lay off as part of a well organised free kick routine with Thauvin, gave Thauvin the opportunity to blast home his long range belter. And secondly, his defence splitting through ball put Cabella clean through on goal, with him subsequently rounding the keeper to score.
Ahead of Marseille's clash with, both Payet and Garcia's former employers, in Lille on Friday night, OM will be keen to continue their dominance from the Angers game into this fixture. Indeed, with Payet looking like he's hitting his stride just at the right time, there's even a chance he could help propel his club to as high as fourth by season's end.
After his nightmare first half of the campaign at West Ham, it's unsurprising Payet is relishing his chance back at Marseille in a familiar environment and where he feels he can contribute offensively just as he desires.
He may be difficult to handle when he's unhappy, but when he's content, there's no doubting what an incredible force he is to be reckoned with.
Dimitri Payet is Showing Sublime Form at Olympique Marseille
17th March 2017. By Edward Stratmann.