Dimitri Payet was one of the best players in the Premier League last season and starred for France at Euro 2016 as well.
After starting this term rather slowly, the West Ham United midfielder has proved to be one of the most creative players in Europe despite failing to provide as many assists as he did last season.
The Hammers have seemingly regressed as well and Payet is desperate for a move away from the club. Given he’s 29 and in his prime, that ambition is understandable but he hasn’t exactly covered himself in glory with the way in which he’s gone about it.
The Frenchman has refused to play for his club as he tries to force through a transfer in January and with West Ham digging their heels in as well, it’s proving to be classic stand-off.
Payet isn’t the first player who has refused to take to the pitch though and the team at Copa90 have put together a top 10 list.
Which player stands out in the list?
“I have no individual targets because that I did already after three months in England. I conquered England – it took three months.”
In typically self-confident style, Zlatan Ibrahimovic summed up in January what many observers had already noticed – it didn’t take him very long to settle at Manchester United.
Though the Swede has had peaks and troughs in his first season at Old Trafford, there is no denying his influence.
So just how much worse off would United be this season without Ibrahimovic?
Sport360 takes a look at the number of points Zlatan has won for United in 2016-17.
MANCHESTER UNITED 2-0 SOUTHAMPTON – 3 points instead of 1
After opening his United account against Leicester in the Community Shield and adding another in the 3-1 victory over Bournemouth on his Premier League debut, Ibrahimovic conjured a match-winning salvo against Southampton on his Old Trafford bow. His two goals – a towering header and a penalty – gave United all three points versus Saints.
SWANSEA 1-3 MANCHESTER UNITED – 3 points instead of 1
Ibrahimovic’s rapid-fire start to his United career soon slowed down and it was almost three months before the former Juventus and Barcelona striker’s second match-winning contribution. Away at Swansea City, Paul Pogba opened the scoring but it was another brace from Ibrahimovic that handed United victory. The first was a rasping low shot from distance – followed by an entertaining flying kick celebration – while his second was an accomplished left-foot finish.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1-1 WEST HAM – 1 point instead of 0
An early strike from Diafra Sakho saw United trail 1-0 at Old Trafford just two minutes into the game but once again the Red Devils were able to turn to their Swedish talisman for a bail out. Meeting Pogba’s floated cross into the box, Ibrahimovic rose to head the ball past West Ham keeper Darren Randolph. United piled on the pressure in the second-half but could not break through as the game finished 1-1.
EVERTON 1-1 MANCHESTER UNITED – 1 point instead of 0
Ibrahimovic has always shown a penchant for the spectacular and against Everton he scored a brilliantly improvised goal. Latching on to another Pogba through-ball, the Swede beat the Toffees’ offside trap before lifting the ball high over onrushing keeper Maarten Stekelenburg. The ball bounced up against the crossbar, then against the post, before dramatically spinning over the line. It looked as though it would be the winning goal, but a late Leighton Baines penalty snatched a point for Everton.
CRYSTAL PALACE 1-2 MANCHESTER UNITED – 3 points instead of 1
After James McArthur had equalised Pogba’s opener it appeared Palace would claim a draw at Selhurst Park but Ibrahimovic had other ideas. Pogba was once more provider for his team-mate as he slid in the Swede, who showed great nerve to rifle home a powerful left-foot strike from a narrow angle to steal all three points in the 88th minute.
WEST BROM 0-2 MANCHESTER UNITED – 3 points instead of 1
A third match-winning brace of the season from Ibrahimovic handed United victory at the Hawthorns. The first was a powerful downward header from Jesse Lingard’s cross, while the second was self-made – Ibrahimovic chipping the ball between two Baggies defenders to tee himself up before firing home a deflected effort.
MANCHESTER UNITED 1-1 LIVERPOOL – 1 point instead of 0
Liverpool were out to prove their title credentials at Old Trafford and looked to be doing just that as James Milner’s penalty game them a first-half lead. United pressed the Reds hard in the second-half and were eventually rewarded with an 84th-minute equaliser, Ibrahimovic straining every sinew of his neck muscles to direct a header beyond Simon Mignolet.
TOTAL POINTS WON BY ZLATAN: 11 – Without Ibrahimovic, United would be 11 points and 14 goals worse off, which would leave Jose Mourinho’s side in 8th place in the table – behind West Brom and Everton – and with a goal difference of -2.
On Sunday afternoon, against Everton, Manchester City had just over 70 per cent possession, seven more shots than the opposition; 864 touches compared to 457; 674 passes as opposed to 274 and yet Pep Guardiola suffered his worst ever league defeat as a manager, losing 4-0.
These stats are the product of Guardiola’s favoured tippy tappy style of playing the game. He is a manager obsessed with keeping possession of the ball and building slowly from the back, which is all very well and good but if there is no goal at the end of it, it is a futile and extremely frustrating exercise.
Everton, who played brilliant counter-attacking football, only had four shots on target and they scored from each one of them.
Every time Pep’s way of playing football goes wrong, as it did at Goodison Park in shambolic fashion, it increases the intensity of the spotlight glaring down on a man who probably for the first time in his managerial career had to listen to chants of ‘you’re getting sacked in the morning’ from Everton fans.
That clearly is not going to happen although I wonder whether Guardiola might now be having second thoughts about taking the City job and the unique challenges of the Premier League which is turning out to be a bit more problematic than he is used to or imagined. City started the game brightly enough and could have taken the lead but they rely too much on Sergio Aguero and he looked a yard off the pace.
Raheem Sterling was lively but never really threatened the goal, Kevin De Bruyne went missing and Yaya Toure was a passenger in midfield. And that brings me to what can loosely be described as a defence. In a word, City’s back line is pathetic. Bacary Sagna and Gael Clichy struggled, Nicolas Otamendi was, as usual, beaten for pace, and John Stones continues to look out of his depth.
In case you haven’t guessed or read my rants before, I have been a City fan since I was a kid and have spoken about the goalkeeper Claudio Bravo before and there is nothing left for me to say about him except ‘why is he still in the team?’ and plead with Guardiola to get rid ASAP.
Strong defences win titles which is why City’s bid looks to be over, as Pep himself admitted. We are only just over half way through the season but to overthrow Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham, Arsenal, and an improving Man United, playing the kind of football that worked in Spain and Germany but not in the far more competitive environment of the EPL is mission impossible.
Some will start to suggest that Guardiola has been found out and at times on Merseyside he did wear the blank expression of a man struggling to come up with ideas.
However, that doesn’t mean he has lost the plot. He did a brilliant job at Barcelona and rewrote the football tactics book with many teams now copying his style and he did well enough at Bayern Munich, but the fact remains that at the moment, he doesn’t appear to have a Plan B for City.
His main problem is the team he inherited. Up front and in midfield, with the exception of Toure who no longer looks like a game changer, he has real talent but he must now rebuild the defence.
City are a wealthy club and he has to be given the money to buy at least two new defenders, a goalkeeper and maybe even freshen up the strike force. If they don’t, Pep’s first season in the Premier League will be a failure and as good as he might be, his reputation will be questioned.