By London correspondent Tony Hughes
Slaven Bilic sent Dimitri Payet a text message before his Euro 2016 masterclass for France telling him he was better than Paul Pogba and all the other players in the star-studded France squad.
Payet picked up where he left off in the 2015-16 domestic season by capping an outstanding individual display with a late beauty as France made a winning start to the tournament with a 2-1 triumph over Romania on Friday night.
Deployed on the left flank, the West Ham playmaker fully justified his inclusion in the team ahead of the likes of Anthony Martial and Kingsley Coman.
Payet’s club manager Bilic was delighted with the performance of the France number eight, who lit up the Premier League in his debut season with the Hammers following his transfer from Marseille last summer.
Bilic, who is working at Euro 2016 as a TV pundit for the BBC, told the Daily Mail: “Before France played Romania, I texted Payet to wish him all the best. The text read: ‘Enjoy it, you have nothing to prove, you are the best player there.’
“I wasn’t wrong, was I? He was fantastic, not only with his late match-winning goal but overall. France were playing everything through him.
“When he was on the left side they attacked on that side — when he went into the middle they did the same.”
Central midfielder Pogba and forward Antoine Griezmann had been hailed as the stars of the France team on the eve of the tournament but Payet has already become central to the side’s style of play.
“It is incredible how, in this strong French team, most of the players, when they had the ball, were looking for Dimitri,” Bilic added in the Mail. “It’s amazing, particularly because he hasn’t been a regular for the French team. He had to prove himself.
“He got his chance because of his brilliant season at West Ham. We are proud he is at our club — and, yes, he has a long contract.”
In other West Ham news, the club are closing in on one of their priority signings after a breakthrough in negotiations.