London (AP) – France playmaker Dimitri Payet has re-joined his former club Marseille after forcing a move from West Ham — the Premier League club that helped to galvanize his career — just two days before the end of European soccer’s transfer window.
Marseille said on its website late Sunday night that 29-year-old Payet had signed a four-and-a-half year contract, with West Ham saying the fee was 25 million pounds ($31 million).
Ambitious Marseille have been under new ownership since October, with money readily available to invest, and on Sunday afternoon Payet tweeted a photo of a private jet with the boarding door open along with the words “coming back home.”
He could play away to Metz in the French league on Friday night. Marseille are currently in sixth place and chasing a Europa League spot.
Payet played for Marseille for two seasons before joining West Ham in June 2015 and establishing himself as one of the stars of the Premier League.
But with his family reportedly unsettled in London, he told West Ham earlier this month that he wanted to leave — despite having signed a new contract through June 2021 just months after joining.
“The club would like to place on record its sincere disappointment that Dimitri Payet did not show the same commitment and respect to West Ham United that the club and fans showed him,” West Ham’s co-chairman David Sullivan said in a club statement. “Particularly when it rewarded him with a lucrative new five-and-half-year deal only last year.”
West Ham rejected two bids for the midfielder before finally accepting a third. The club has already signed a replacement for Payet in Robert Snodgrass, the Scotland international who joined from Hull.
Payet scored several spectacular free kicks last season as West Ham finished seventh. His skill and trickery caught the eye throughout the Premier League campaign and earned him a recall to the France team. He scored three goals in last year’s European Championship, where France reached the final.
But three weeks ago, he told West Ham manager Slaven Bilic by phone that he wanted to leave and the club said he refused to play.
Bilic said at the time the club would stand firm and not sell him, but West Ham eventually relented.
“The decision to allow Payet to leave was in accordance with the wishes of the manager and the interests of squad unity,” Sullivan said. “To be frank, my board and I would have preferred for him to have stayed in order to make an example of him, as no player is bigger than the club.”
This season, Payet’s performances have dipped and he scored just twice in 18 league games. His last performance in the claret and blue jersey of West Ham was as a substitute in a dismal 5-0 home defeat to Manchester City in the FA Cup.
While one of the Premier League’s finest players last season, Payet’s eagerness to return to France echoes the reluctance he showed in moving to England in the first place.
At the time of his transfer to West Ham, he said he was unhappy to be sold and wanted to stay at Marseilles.
Now he is poised to return to the team he never wanted to leave, and one which seems a more ambitious club than when he left.
Marseille have been bought by American businessman Frank McCourt — the former owner of baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers — who has pledged to invest 200 million euros ($220 million) over the next four years.
Veteran left back Patrice Evra, who linked up with Payet on the left flank for France at Euro 2016, joined Marseille from Italian champion Juventus last week.