The days of Dimitri Payet bending free-kicks around expertly assembled defensive walls as the Barclays flag flies high feel like a distant memory these days.
Nostalgia is one hell of a drug, but there was admittedly something about that era that just felt infinitely more fun, from Payet’s wild free-kicks to the less rigid tactical configurations.
Payet only spent two years in the capital with West Ham, but it felt like a lifetime – especially for supporters of clubs who’d fallen victim to the Frenchman in full stride.
Those two years gave us everything. Tricks, flicks, fallouts and everything in between. It was rather chaotic, but the perfect kind of chaos.
Blessed with an addiction to scoring outrageous free-kicks and a pair of feet that allowed him to find his way out of any tight space he was put into, Payet reached world-class levels during his time in the Premier League, thus it was a shame to see him slip into obscurity when he forced a move back to Marseille in 2017.
The stars didn’t quite align. It simply wasn’t meant to be and the Barclays train kept on chugging while Payet disappeared.
Except he didn’t. Payet’s second spell with Marseille quietly came to an end in 2023 and instead of using his name and stock to remain in Europe’s top five leagues or even cash in with a move to Saudi Arabia, he defied all the odds and headed to Brazil.
No, really. Brazil. As in the birthing home of some of perhaps the game’s greatest-ever players, among countless other legends. The institution of Joga Bonito.
Flying the flag high for forgotten ballers across the globe, he inked a deal with Vasco da Gama and has spent the time since putting together a showreel of clips that will make your mouth water and fill your eyes with tears thinking about the good old days.
Since joining Vasco in August 2023, Payet has weighed in with two goals and one assist from 17 games thus far on his Brazilian excursion. It’s been a tame start, but the numbers don’t tell the full story.
What does is the devastating nutmeg that he recently pulled off, giving us all life and quite possibly being the springboard for his 2024 season in South America.
Dimitri Payet's still got it. pic.twitter.com/lfsmRkVL4N
— Planet Football (@planetfutebol) January 22, 2024
You never lose the magic touch. Chopping up blades of grass, the Frenchman finds himself in a pickle, but eases the pressure with an effortless nutmeg that you’d do well to still be standing from.
Better yet, the nutmeg turns into an inch-perfect pass for his colleague, with Payet left afterwards to bask in the ambience of his magic, collar popped like a movie star.
It was mesmeric footwork which had us weak at the knees and envious of his ability, but also choked up thinking of the halcyon days that involved him sticking it top bins every month for the Hammers.
Now 36, Payet is winding down his career, but doing it in a fashion perhaps nobody expected. His move to Brazil was extraordinarily left-field, and one you’d only associate with football purists wanting to experience the game at its most pure.
Perhaps we underestimated Dimitri for all those years.
He might just be a free-kick and nutmeg merchant to some, but for us, he’s championing everything well and good about the beautiful game, travelling below the equator to one of its spiritual homes and broadening his horizons like an extremely well-off university student on a three-month holiday to Thailand.
Wanting one last dance, one final lease of life, he’s living the life we all dream of living. In an era where football is poisoned by sportswashing projects, monotonous tactics and domestic monopolies, Payet’s stint in Brazil is a reminder that the game isn’t lost just yet.
Hold your hipster tote bags aloft in tribute to our new and unexpected tricky hero.
By Mitch Wilks