Thursday 18 January 2018

Stephen Hunt: Sometimes I can't help wishing I'd done what Payet is doing

Forcing a move doesn't make you popular with fans or team-mates, but you get what you want

'West Ham United's Dimitri Payet is gone, sold to Marseille. I’m telling you now.' Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA
'West Ham United's Dimitri Payet is gone, sold to Marseille. I’m telling you now.' Photo: Daniel Hambury/PA
Stephen Hunt

Stephen Hunt

There was one moment in my career when I could feasibly have done a Diego Costa or a Dimitri Payet - if I was that type of player. It was the January window in 2008 and I had the chance to go to Sunderland under Roy Keane. I had even been visualising it, I was ready for it, but Reading wouldn't let me go.

That led to a lot of heated discussions. I got quite aggressive with the director of football, and demanded answers from the manager.

Once I got onto the training ground, though, I never had it in me to act up. I just couldn't help myself putting in the effort and I think most players would be like that, particularly British and Irish players who have more of a connection to the competition as well as people who would have to live with any aftermath.

But here's the rub: sometimes I can't help wishing I had forced a move. Maybe my career would have worked out differently. Who knows? Overall, though, you'll probably lose out in the long term if you do it. It will give you a bad name, and it could even mean losing out on a transfer the next time because clubs will know what to expect.

At the same time, if you do really want to force a move, the kind of thing that Costa and Payet did is probably the only way. It's the player's main weapon. That is why a lot of players wouldn't be too fussed about what Costa did. With Payet, however, it's a bit different.

In my career, there was only one teammate who really kicked up in that kind of way. Even though he wasn't playing that regularly and the club hadn't yet committed to a new deal for him, they told him they couldn't accept an offer that came in for him, because the team was going well and had their own goals. He obviously wanted more security, and that's understandable, so he was frustrated too. At training, however, he started acting the mickey by just booting balls around the place. The ball would be coming towards him, and he'd just randomly whack it away. He would also sulk, but pick his moments. He wouldn't be ostentatious about it, but it was still obvious.

As players knowing his situation, we kind of stayed quiet. He also had a good relationship with the strong part of the team in that time, so you get on with it. If he's having a tiff, he's having a tiff. It's up to the manager to take the initiative, and someone in this case did. A word was had, and it was nipped in the bud.

I think Antonio Conte took the initiative well with Costa, too.

If it had continued into another week with a saga, or an obstruction, it would have been a big situation. Something else would have leaked out in the media. It would have been too much, and come down to who Chelsea could have got in to replace him, and how quickly they could have got rid of Costa. There aren't many players available who are going to be good value in the January market, and they probably would have ended up paying more for Romelu Lukaku, who is not as good a striker. Not many can score like Costa, and play in that lone role like him. Had it continued, I'd have been worried for Chelsea, but it's now calm.

Conte handled it well in the build-up to the win over Leicester City, and afterwards, dismissing all the talk. The message was very much 'just get on with it' and 'this team means business'. Fitting in with that, the understanding is that Conte just wants everyone to keep working hard in training and on the pitch. That's where the real 'sorry' will come. That's enough for now.

He also put a winger up front in Pedro against Leicester, rather than another striker in Michy Batshuayi, so there's no pressure there in terms of leaving out a direct replacement who has done well.

Costa will get back in the team, although I would be surprised if Conte puts him straight into the starting XI. If I was manager, I wouldn't, as it's also a message to the other players to work to get back. They're at home to a relegation candidate in Hull City today, so he has that luxury. He can leave Costa on the bench and see how they go.

I do think Costa has played it quite well, too, in terms of what it is. He has only missed one game and is more likely to get a pay rise. I suppose the question is why wouldn't you do it? Conscience or an attachment to a team or football culture is one big reason, but I don't think Costa feels that. It's easier for him. He won't be living in London after he retires, he hasn't grown up in the culture and he doesn't have the same feeling for it. Also something that is a big thing for British or Irish players, his family won't have to live with it.

Knowing dressing rooms and putting myself in that Chelsea team, I think there'd be a certain understanding towards him for that. Once he doesn't mess about when coming back into the team, it'll be fine. They'll get back in the hunt for the title.

There will be an element of scar tissue there until the end of the season, and it could well come out in bad moments. It also means he can never, say, be a Didier Drogba figure. For this season, though, everyone at Chelsea knows he can keep them top of the league. It's not like a relegation battle, where it's a different feeling and can get more toxic. In that situation it's easy for players to make excuses, say 'he's not in it for us'. But they're top of the league and they know what he can do.

Payet is different. He's gone, sold to Marseille. I'm telling you now.

Good a player as he is, I almost think it's a positive for West Ham. He's 29, only has one or two years left at his peak, then that's it; no sale price as good as this.

I also think it's a positive for the squad. They are actively pulling together. That's visible. They have a rallying point. The story about Payet being taken out of the WhatsApp group tells a lot. As I'm sure readers will know from playing at any level of sport, messaging groups like that are important in terms of morale.

I took myself out of the Coventry City one because I was retiring, but made sure to fire a few bullets before I left. I tore shreds off one or two younger players getting ahead of themselves, and then left the group.

It does show the West Ham players are irritated, and you can tell.

The key difference is that Costa hasn't completely downed tools in that way. Sure, he acted up a bit last week, but look how it's been nipped in the bud. Payet, in contrast, hasn't looked as committed for the last few months. He hasn't even celebrated some big goals that have gone in.

One is short-term, one is long-term.

I would make Payet train at 2.0pm every day, conforming to the bare minimum of PFA requirements. They say that, for a training session, there has to be a coach and four other players, so I would just get four lads from the youth team, play small games, and banish him like that. With the position that West Ham are in, they don't need anyone weighing them down. No matter the talent, let it go. A healthy collective team will be better mentality than one with a lot of talent but a lot of issues.

That's another reason I think he'll go, because they won't want him hanging around there. And they're a good core of lads, knowing a few. Take Michael Antonio, my old mate from Reading. I have to say I never thought he'd be at this level where he's arguably West Ham's most important player after Payet. It goes to show what belief in yourself can do.

I remember one winter at Reading it was snowing and there was no public transport running, and he was just a young lad who had come from non-league. I don't think he even had enough money for a taxi and he ended up walking a fair few miles across London. So whatever Antonio gets, he deserves.

Of course, the root of many of these situations is players looking to get what they deserve. It's the odd thing with Payet too. As bad as he's made this situation, what he wants isn't that bad. It's clear it's about his family. He's not even going for more money, so I would have a certain sympathy for him in that sense.

I don't have much sympathy for what he's doing - but then there's probably no better way of forcing it.

He has no ties here either, and this will be his last big move. He has that luxury, and it also points to the contradiction for a lot of players. The majority, however, would never do it themselves.

Sunday Indo Sport

Promoted Links

Sport Newsletter

The best sport action straight to your inbox every morning.

Promoted Links

Editor's Choice

Also in Sport