Euro 2016: Deadly Dimitri Payet is the newest star in world Football
On the evening of November 13, 2015, terrorists attacked the city of Paris, the capital of France, killing 130 people, unleashing mindless violence on a proud nation. Worst still, realization soon dawned that many of the perpetrators were French nationals - sons of parents who had migrated to mainland France from former French colonies.
The nation of France was shattered in as much as the very values that it had stood for and so proudly propagated to the rest of the world - Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, were now itself being questioned. Seven months later, a diminutive 29-year old, born in the French island of Reunion in the Indian ocean, singlehandedly and emphatically responded to those doubters. Both in France and the rest of the world.
Dimitri Payet symbolizes all that France stands for. Integrated into the mainland and rising to the top of his trade purely by virtue of his sheer footballing talent - and because of the French’s passionate adherence to inclusive values. Payet lifted his nation from the gloom and doom which had been engulfing it for seven months, through two electrifying performances in the ongoing Euro 2016 football championship being held in his home country.
It was not so much his dominance on the field, the two goals he scored, but the manner in which those goals came about and the moment that they came in, that instilled the never say die spirit firmly back into his countrymen.
Although the English Premiere League, the UEFA Champions League and the likes have an enviable global following, nothing beats a multi-nation international football tournament, when it comes to attracting a truly global fan audience. The Euro is one such tournament which has the ability to leave behind the most indelible of impressions on football fans across every corner of the sporting world.
Long after local experts and coaches had started raving about them, the Dutch troika of Marco Van Basten, Ruud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard attained global stardom in 1988, after their stellar show in what was then known as the European Championship. Another French legend, Michael Platini, also earned global stardom on the back of his performances in the 1984 edition.
Indeed, there is no better global stage in football for a star to be born than in competitions like the Euro, the Copa, the Olympics and of course the FIFA World Cup. Euro 2016 likewise, will be remembered for the birth of another global football star in Dimitri Payet.
Payet will probably look back at his first goal, the fourth he has ever scored for his country, as the moment which probably changed his life forever. From West Ham United’s talisman to a national icon and a global star is what that 89th-minute left-footed torpedo did for him.
The situation was tense. The home fans were expecting nothing less than a winning start from their national football team. They had every right to do so as not only were France hosting the tournament and had a great record of cup wins as hosts, but they also had a quality team which was ranked amongst the favourites to win, along with the likes of world champions Germany and former world champions Spain.
Romania were proving to be party-poopers having equalized in the 65th-minute of the match through Bogdan Stancu’s penalty conversion, which cancelled out Olivier Giroud’s 58th-minute header. With the game headed for a draw and a minute left in the regulation time, Payet received a ball just yards outside the top right corner of the Romanian penalty box.
He trapped it with his right foot while standing perpendicular to the Romanian goal, and then unleashed a scorching pile-driver with his left, to bulge the net in the top right corner of Romania’s goal. The home crowd erupted in joy and Payet’s tryst with global stardom had well and truly begun.
His second goal of the tournament against comparatively weaker but the equally stubborn Albanians, came in the fifth minute of injury time after Antoine Griezmann had given France the lead in the 90th minute. Receiving a loose ball, this time just yards outside the left top corner of the Albanian penalty box, Payet burst inside, wrong-footed two defenders on the run with a deft body dodge, and curled a right-footer to the right corner of the Albanian net.
This ensured that France not only marched into the round of 16 in style, but would do so with confidence, and that a strong message had gone out to their other favoured opponents.
The story behind Payet’s tears
Payet became emotional after the match against Romania ended and that had a history to it. About 10 months back, dropped from the French team and successive French managers were having issues with his feisty temperament. Didier Deschamps himself had expressed doubts and it seemed for a while that the light had been snuffed out of Payet’s international career.
He forced himself back into the squad on the back of an exceptional year with West Ham United in England, where he was the cornerstone of their seventh place finish in the league. His playmaking, and in particular his mastery over the dead-ball was becoming a bit of a legend in England.
Six of his 16 goals for club and country, since he signed for West Ham last year, had come from free-kicks. However, for the transition to be considered complete, Payet had to make his mark on the world stage. And how he has done it!
Payet is the dream youth role model of a sports star and therefore has the potential to become of the most valuable sports brands in the near future. A hard-working struggler and a late bloomer, temperamental, passionate, diminutive in stature to ignite that David versus Goliath feeling, a family man, sublime playmaking and ball skills and off late picking up a welcome habit of taking responsibility when needed most - Dimitri Payet at the moment, has the world at his feet.