Although it had been predicted, as soon as Didier Deschamps announced his 23-man squad for the European Championships, the questions began…Where’s Ben Arfa? It was a reasonable shout; the former Newcastle United man had scored 17 goals for Nice as they finished fourth in Ligue 1.
However, through his incredible form for West Ham United and Didier Deschamps’ change of mind regarding the player, Dimitri Payet is the main reason HBA has missed out. The Reunion-born forward offers much more all over the pitch and has blossomed since his move to England 12 months ago.
"I'm not speaking about Dimitri [but] if I have a player who goes against the spirit and who can be a danger to the squad, I won't take him. And that's the case with certain players," Deschamps said after overlooking Payet last September.
Ben Arfa has certainly grown-up after his time in the south of France, but Payet has completely shaken off his troubled reputation and is on the verge of becoming an international superstar.
In the first of France’s two warm-up games before the Euro 2016, Payet is set to start against Cameroon at the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard in Saint-Etienne on Tuesday night - one of his former clubs - and a good performance could see him walk out as a starter when Les Bleus take on Romania at the Stade de France on May 10th.
Deschamps will not deviate from his 4-3-3 formation and no matter what you think of Olivier Giroud and his form for Arsenal, the centre-forward will lead the French attack this summer. His hold-up play, aerial ability and inventiveness – rather than his goal-scoring – will be key for France.
Antoine Griezmann, now a bonafide star for Atletico Madrid, despite playing as a more central forward in Spain will start on the right. He is allowed and expected to come inside and link up with Giroud, which leaves space on the left for a more creative and dynamic player.
Payet is at home here.
When at Lille, he played mostly as a left-winger, but he was allowed to cut inside on to his right-foot, it was there you got the first glimpses of the player West Ham United fans have enjoyed this season.
“I think you English guys love this kind of player,” admitted Rene Girard, the former Lille and Montpellier coach who called up Payet to the France Under 21 side in 2007.
“He is a Cantona type, a Gascoigne type. It’s that bit of arrogance, the strut, the artistic sense and that innate ability to illuminate a match. He’s had that kind of impact on West Ham."
It was before Girard arrived at Lille that Payet scored 13 league goals and provided 12 assists, playing alongside Salomon Kalou, Nolan Roux and the emerging Divock Origi. He left in the summer of 2013, with Marseille picking up ab absolute bargain, paying the exact same price that Lille paid to bring him from Saint-Etienne.
Down at the Velodrome, he struggled to adapt at first as Jose Anigo tried to fit in all his new signings. Payet started on the right and it wasn’t until Marcelo Bielsa’s arrival that he Reunion born forward looked much more at ease.
Finishing the season with seven goals and an incredible 16 assists, Payet’s stock had never been so high. Bielsa played him on the left, with Benjamin Mendy providing width from full-back, the winger was able to cut inside onto his right-foot and the results were devastating.
It was that madcap season under the Argentine coach that got him ready for life in England. Intense training sessions, discipline and in depth tactical discussions, if you don’t give your all for Bielsa, you have little chance of success.
"I had a good relationship with Bielsa,” the player told Canal Plus. “He spoke to me explaining things. Even in training, he did not want me to be less involved.”
"He constantly kept me awake!”
Now, for France, Payet has the task of becoming Deschamps’ replacement for Mathieu Valbuena. Back in Brazil 2014, the former Marseille playmaker was played on the right, but with full licence to cut inside and create. He rarely let France down and regardless of club form, he was one of the first names on the team sheet.
Payet hasn’t quite reached that level yet, but he will be handed a similar role in attack.
Brought back in the squad in March, Payet grabbed his opportunity with gusto, impressing against both the Netherlands and Russia. There’s no doubt he could make a huge impact off the bench, but he could be the key element that France are missing if given the nod from the start.
"It's the best season of my career, in line with what I was doing with Marseille last season, with maybe a bit more visibility because it's the Premier League," Payet told L’Equipe.
"And then I've managed to reproduce with the national team what I've done with my club. At the moment, I'm savouring it."
Anthony Martial has enjoyed a wonderful season for Manchester United and the young forward has shown his ability to use his power and pace to drive the ball wide and create chances from the wing, however, he doesn’t offer that same creativity that Payet provides when he drifts into the space left for a typical No.10.
Ben Arfa only managed six assists for Nice this season, with his performances more centred on finishing, rather than creating. Payet does both and provides that constant threat from all over the pitch.
Sometimes, with France, the link between the midfield and attack can become stretched and frustrating. Payet gives Deschamps that link, that spark and that bit of brilliance that could be the difference between success and failure this summer.