West Ham desperate to keep Dimitri Payet

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Can West Ham keep hold of Dimitri Payet?

They really need to.

[ MORE: United to spend $220 million? ]

That’s not me saying that, those are the words of Hammers manager Slaven Bilic ahead of their massive relegation battle against Swansea City on Boxing Day (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET online via NBCSports.com).

Speaking to the media, Bilic confirmed that Payet is not for sale despite the 29-year-old playmaker being linked with Arsenal, Manchester United and others in the upcoming January transfer window.

“We do not want to sell him – he is our top player,” Bilic said. “We said the same the last window and now all the speculation starts again. He’s got a contract with us, a long contract and I’ll say what I always say: we don’t want to sell him. West Ham have given a strong statement that we want to keep our best player. You can’t stop speculation; great players always attract attention when the window comes. We always knew this would happen, that there would be stories, rumours in the media. This is why it’s important for the club to say this, but it’s nothing new.”

In the week Payet spoke to French outlet RMC and praised Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger and said he missed playing in the UEFA Champions League. Bilic said he had no problem with that, but with the Hammers embroiled in a relegation battle, is Payet trying to acclerate a move away from the London Stadium?

Payet has achieved cult status in east London after his breakout first season in the Premier League in 2015-16. Those performances pushed him into the French national team as he shone at EURO 2016. Despite signing a new contract at West Ham in the summer, if Arsenal, United or anybody else comes in with a huge bid, can West Ham stand in Payet’s way?

He’d be swapping a relegation battle for a top four and potential title battle, yet do either Arsenal or United really need Payet?

Payet doesn’t seem made for a relegation battle and although he has produced some magic moments this season (the mesmerizing solo goal against Middlesbrough and a wonderful free kick at Anfield against Liverpool) he has often looked disinterested in rolling his sleeves up against the smaller teams.

The Hammers owners can’t afford to sell Payet and have the already angry fanbase to turn further against them following the so far controversial move to the London Stadium from Upton Park.

Bilic is open and honest but you get the sense that even he is a little worried that Payet may not be around at West Ham for much longer.