Slaven Bilic believes that Dimitri Payet's short-term impact at West Ham United merits comparison with cult hero Paolo Di Canio. The French midfielder only arrived at Upton Park back in June 2015, yet has already cemented his status as the club's most influential player, with six goals and four assists in just 16 top-flight outings to date.
After making such an inspired start to his Hammers career, Payet was forced to miss almost two months as a result of an ankle injury sustained following a heavy tackle from James McCarthy during the 1-1 draw with Everton. Despite initial fears he might be sidelined for up to 12 weeks, the 28-year-old recovered ahead of schedule and made his long-awaited return on 2 January against Liverpool.
Jurgen Klopp's side will once again provide the opposition for West Ham this weekend as they host an FA Cup fourth-round tie at Anfield. Although Bilic has already confirmed that he will make changes to his starting XI for that match, Payet is unlikely to be rested as he bids to build on a reputation that has already seen him mentioned in the same breath as one of the most captivating talents of the Premier League era.
"At this club there were big players," the manager told reporters at a press conference when asked if Payet compared to the tempestuous Italian. "But I think the last player that made such a big impact in no time was Paolo Di Canio."
Payet's impressive performances for West Ham this term are unlikely to have gone unnoticed among Europe's biggest clubs. Reports from The Mirror earlier this week even suggested that Galatasaray had asked for the player in exchange during negotiations over the potential loan of striker Burak Yilmaz, yet Bilic maintains that his most important talent is staying put.
After initially stating that there was "no money in the world" that would convince him to let Payet leave, he later reiterated: "No. Any club, no. Never.
"It's not one game. Basically, I know him from before. He was doing that last year and that's why we got him. And the year before that. I know what he's like in previous seasons, not only in West Ham."
With West Ham set to leave their old home behind in order to become tenants at the Olympic Stadium in Stratford from 2016/17, Bilic believes that retaining the services of potentially world-class players like Payet shows the Hammers are forging a new identity that does not involve selling to bigger teams.
"We were like a selling club and all that, but we are moving stadiums and we are talking and acting like we are going to try, not overnight, to go up with the club and everything. For me, the most important thing regarding that is to not sell your best players. So Dimitri Payet, we should sell no way. He is our player and we want him to stay and he's staying."
West Ham have been rather quiet during the current January transfer window, with only highly rated right-back Sam Byram arriving from Leeds United. Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike is expected to join on loan before the market closes for business on 1 February and Bilic believes that the presence of Payet could make possible new recruits more likely to join in future.
"I think they would. Not because of Dimitri Payet, but because of West Ham. But what makes West Ham, West Ham? Players, of course. West Ham is not only Dimitri Payet, but I have no problem saying that he is our best player. And, of course, if we keep Dimitri Payet, and I see no reason why we shouldn't keep him, then of course it would attract other players as well. Because they will also think not only am I going to play with Dimitri Payet, but West Ham are thinking big and long term."