“I had to come back here, maybe because I’m crazy too, but I like places that are a bit wild.” So says Marseille playmaker Dimitri Payet, flourishing since his return to the club from West Ham last year and now preparing for Wednesday’s UEFA Europa League final. UEFA.com looks over the 31-year-old’s eventful career.
Rudi Garcia, Marseille coach, on Payet
“I know him well, as I signed him at Lille [in 2011]. That’s why I knew he had to come back to Marseille. He loves Marseille and he loves Marseille’s fans. True, he was doing great things in England at the time, but Marseille needed him and I knew what he could bring us.”
“He’s been at peak physical strength since January 2018, so he’s been able to offer the full extent of his talents. He’s been a role model as captain. He’s often managed to raise the overall level of the team in the Europa League and that has enabled us to reach the final.”
International: 37 appearances, 8 goals
UEFA club competition: 41 appearances, 6 goals
European domestic competition: 452 appearances, 91 goals
• Born in Reunion – a French island in the Indian Ocean – Payet followed in the footsteps of Florent Sinama Pongolle and Guillaume Hoarau in 1999 by being sent to Le Havre, aged 12, to join the Normandy club’s youth department. But he returned to Reunion in 2003 amid claims he had a difficult character.
• Having sparkled in local football for AS Excelsior, Payet was brought back to mainland France by Nantes in 2005. The club found him hard to handle yet could not doubt his quality. “Dimitri was a player with indisputable talent despite his natural nonchalance,” said youth boss Stéphane Moreau. “He could make team-mates play and destroy opponents.”
• Transferred to St-Étienne in 2007 following Nantes’ relegation, again he sparkled and aggravated in equal measure. Payet had an on-field altercation with skipper Blaise Matuidi on 8 May 2010, during a loss to Toulouse. He was substituted and sanctioned by the club.
• He first linked up with Rudi Garcia at LOSC, who signed him in 2011. Initially, Payet shadowed Eden Hazard, before taking the playmaking mantle in his second term after the Belgian’s 2012 departure. “He scored 12 goals and made 12 assists that season – a ‘Double 12’!” Garcia recalled.
• Payet struck twice inside 15 minutes of his Marseille debut after joining in 2013 – in a 3-1 win at Guingamp. He blossomed under Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentinian coach’s assistant Jan Van Winckel saying: “Bielsa was the first to recognise that Dimitri is a playmaker, not a winger. Dimitri is probably the best player in the world, together with Andrés Iniesta, with his back to goal.”
• He made a high-profile move to West Ham in 2015 and registered some stunning goals for the Londoners, but rejoined Marseille in acrimonious circumstances in January 2017. Yet Payet said West Ham’s defensive tactics left him “bored”, adding: “The most important thing is that I am where I wanted to be. The best is yet to come.”
• He starred for France at UEFA EURO 2016, although the hosts’ final defeat by Portugal left its mark on the Payet household. Payet admitted his children “love Ronaldo and Messi” but said that since Les Bleus lost the decider “they have no right to pronounce the name of Ronaldo!”.
Payet on the UEFA Europa League final
“You play football to be involved in these big games. It’s not a normal match; it’s a final, so you have to try to play like you usually do while also giving a bit extra because we’ll be up against a great side that has been put together to try to win the Champions League. They’re in the Europa League now and they’re the favourites. We’re the underdogs but we’ll give it everything.
“It’s similar to EURO 2016 when we were at home. We can feel that passion from the French people. That’s how it is. I think it’s for the best and it can really benefit us.”