When Saturday Comes explained the normal outlook of a soccer supporter as a ‘fusion of cynicism and stoic despair’ but a few goals signify times where pessimism is trumped by the trust. When contrary to all ingrained instincts, you think this may be the moment where your team eventually achieve tangible success.
The team’s outstanding player, Payet was the focus of West Ham’s best season in a generation. At Old Trafford, his goal has put the club within twenty minutes of the FA Cup semi-finals, where their opponents are Crystal Palace Everton or Watford. At the moment, it felt like West Ham’s name was on the Cup. Looking back, it seems as remote as the possibility of witnessing the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Additionally, it seemed unlikely in the summer of 2015. A balanced person with a chip on each shoulder, Allardyce claimed he was treated harshly by the club owners. While he’d re-established back the club in the Premier League, the group was going rancid under his tutelage.
In fourth place over Christmas 2014, Allardyce’s decision to reinstate Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll into the beginning line-up destabilised a formerly successful first eleven, playing in a 4-4-2 diamond creation. But he left behind a solid if unspectacular squad which was crying out for some imagination.
Supplemented by another summer signing, vague Argentine midfielder Manuel Lanzini, West Ham were a sin during the 2015/16 season. The previously stodgy soccer played with the group looked transformed by the introduction of midfield creativity and the team began picking up some notable scalps.
There were eye-catching victories away at Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester City, along with a home win over Chelsea at which Jose Mourinho was sent off in half-time for claiming his innocence with the game officials with a certainty just held by the truly guilty.
Wolverhampton Wanderers was discharged from the Third Round, followed by Liverpool following a dramatic winning header by Angelo Ogbonna at the last minute of extra-time at the Fourth Round Replay. From the Fifth Round, Championship side Blackburn Rovers was demolished 5-1 with a man-of-the-match functionality by Payet.
Two goals, including a free-kick called a ‘humdinger’ by Guardian reporter Jamie Jackson, crystallised the opinion that West Ham owned one of the form players in soccer. A season that had begun with fears of relegation at the last season at Upton Park had turned into something a lot more romantic, attacking soccer sound-tracked by Billy Ray Cyrus.
This mood was down to the travails of Manchester United. By now firmly stuck in a post-Ferguson funk, United were under West Ham at the Premier League table amidst protests in the standard of football on display. Under the management of Louis van Gaal, a guy with such preposterous self-confidence he made Boris Johnson seems like Mark Corrigan, United played with the sort of slow-paced possession soccer that saps pleasure from players and fans alike. Tellingly, the midfield was anchored by Wayne Rooney, his tried metamorphosis to Andrea Pirlo hampered by crab-like athleticism.
Eliminated from the group stages of the Champions League, and then the Europa League by arch-rivals Liverpool, a consensus started to grow that just an FA Cup victory could potentially save van Gaal’s job. Alternately, many Stretford End regulars expected that defeat against West Ham would accelerate his death. By the time of this quarter-final, the stakes were high.
As is frequently the case with these kinds of events, the first half failed to live up to expectations. West Ham created the better opportunities despite having less ownership while United failed to get a shot on goal.
Payet had a quiet first half, though he demonstrated his class with some nifty footwork to launch Aaron Cresswell to cross to the half’s clearest opportunity. Emmanuel Emenike, an otherwise forgettable loan signing, headed straight at David de Gea when a header to either side could have put West Ham ahead.
By comparison, the second half was later described by journalist Rob Smyth as ‘crazy, desperate and richly enjoyable’. Payet became increasingly powerful, picking up a booking for a foul on Jesse Lingard and has been the middle of the game’s first controversial moment. Escaping Fellaini with the simplicity of time escaping an alcoholic, Payet dropped just inside the penalty area under the challenge of Marcos Rojo.
Subjectivity comes into play. Howard Webb, working on the game with BT Sport, claimed it was a clear penalty.
A more balanced interpretation would imply Payet had dragged his foot to make sure there was contact with Rojo, trying to win a penalty. Surely, it would have been a tender conclusion and referee Martin Atkinson withdrew the claim. But if Payet was adjudged to have dived, by the letter of the law he must have been shown a second yellow card and ignored. This ambiguity would affect what was to follow.
Minutes later, West Ham were given a free-kick round thirty-five yards from goal. There was no doubt that the travelling fans needed to take itPayet’s chant stuffed Old Trafford with sufficient intensity to indicate the game was being played in London. On BT Sport, co-commentator Michael Owen commented how Payet was practising free kicks from the pre-match warm-up without’hitting any on goal’.
What happened next was described by Smyth as ‘near perfection’. Having a five-step run-up, Payet struck a curling right-footed free-kick that was able to curve inwards and conquer de Gea. Deliciously, it struck the inside of the right-hand post on its way in — it’s one of soccer’s truisms a target that strikes the woodwork before crossing the line provokes immense pride. .
Typically, Paul Scholes commented that p Gea should have saved it. It was a long way from Sam Allardyce.
It might be claimed that Payet scored an even greater free-kick weeks later against Crystal Palace. From just outside the penalty area, Payet was able to lift the ball over the defensive wall and just under the cross bar, several Palace fans behind the goal initially jeered an effort that appeared to be heading to the audience.
But this was more than only a terrific aim. BT commentator Ian Darke emphasised that West Ham was’on their way to Wembley’ and many impartial viewers would have consented. After the match, van Gaal agreed that his group was ‘second best’ up until that point and given the trajectories of the club seasons, it appeared likely that West Ham would go on and win. Like Di Canio and Tevez before him, Payet appeared to have scored a famous winner for West Ham in Old Trafford.
Some things are simply too good to be true. Ander Herrera raised a cross to the far post and, together with the significant help of Bastian Schweinsteiger’s backside, Anthony Martial had an empty net to turn the ball home. West Ham protested later that Schweinsteiger had fouled goalkeeper Darren Randolph but to no avail. If Payet should have been sent before, then Martial’s goal should have been disallowed.
At this time, West Ham were favoured to win the replay but goals in the emerging Marcus Rashford and Fellaini saw United win 2-1 at Upton Park. Despite winning the contest, manager van Gaal was sacked almost immediately after.
Finishing in their highest position since 2002, with a positive goal difference for the first time in the Premier League age, the team appeared well-set for a period of sustained success. Payet, included in the PFA Team of the Year, was fundamental to these hopes.
There was no fairy-tale ending. By the next January, the group was mired in a comfortable relegation battle and Payet wanted to depart. He claimed a 1-0 win over Hull, where the man of the match award was given to the goalpost that saved three particular Hull goals, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Rumours abounded that his wife wanted to return to Marseille and that Payet needed to be talked into staying after filming at Euro 2016 with France.
Whatever the truth, it can’t be denied that he defecated upon his West Ham heritage from the height of the Eiffel Tower. Pictures of him which adjourned the London Stadium were hastily removed and the club felt inclined to accept a #25 million deal from Marseille. In under a year, Payet had seized the imagination of West Ham fans and managed to squander this affection. Like many extreme relationships, the end was bitter and acrimonious. Of course that he was quickly re-christened ‘le snake’.
Yet, to completely remember Payet by his death masks the precious moments he supplied. For one season, West Ham owned a participant that was the envy of English soccer and fitted the picture of maverick lawmaker the club has ever craved. His goal at Old Trafford encapsulated the feeling that victory was just around the corner, the team was on the brink of something special.
As Tim Canterbury stated in The Office,’Life is not about endings, is it? It’s a collection of moments’. Within this circumstance, Payet’s free-kick deserves to be recalled with no overridden by his complex legacy.
If the words ‘I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles’ summarise the sensation of supporting West Ham, Payet’s goal was the moment the bubbles almost reached the skies.