“I signed a very long contract with West Ham. It is very likely that I’ll still be here next season.”
This is what Dimitri Payet reportedly told French reporters prior to scoring yet another super free-kick to hand France a 3-2 friendly win over Cameroon as part of their final preparations for Euro 2016.
The use of the phrase “very likely” instead of certain or another word to that effect was interesting from the 29-year-old, given the possibility of enhancing his stock further at Euro 2016 following a scintillating debut season with the Hammers.
Should one of football’s superpowers come knocking, West Ham will do well to retain Payet at the peak of his career. Only Mesut Ozil created more chances for teammates in the Premier League this season, while the Arsenal man and fellow north Londoner Christian Eriksen were the only pair to trump Payet for assists.
Slaven Bilic clearly knew what he was getting when signing Payet, given he had topped the Ligue 1 assist charts the previous campaign with 16 for Marseille.
And it now seems that Bilic is getting his contingency in place should he lose his creative Frenchman.
Zlatko Junuzovic only signed a new contract at Werder Bremen last season, but seems keen to improve his career after three campaigns with the main goal of avoiding relegation.
Despite the limitations and overall lack of quality of Bremen, Junuzovic ended the 2014/15 Bundesliga season second in assists to Kevin de Bruyne, while another double-figure haul this term meant he was third to Dortmund’s Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Leverkusen’s Karim Bellarabi.
Eight of these assists have come in 2016 alone.
The Austrian’s similarities with Payet don’t end with his assist potential – he is also a mean free-kick taker.
Here are a collection of some of his pearlers from his time at Bremen:
Where Junuzovic is superior to Payet is in terms of his versatility. He can operate in either a deeper or offensive central role, while he has been most valuable on the international stage down the right flank opposite Stoke’s Marko Arnautovic.
Meanwhile, the 28-year-old may not be blessed with the same vision and skill as Payet, but he is arguably a harder worker too, ranking promisingly for successful tackles and interceptions at Bremen.
With the growing pressure on playmakers to start defensive phases and win possession in high areas, Junuzovic should be a useful fit for the Premier League.
It is unlikely that West Ham require both he and Payet, but should Bilic cash in on his most prized asset, plans appear to be underway to seek a capable successor.
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