- Cheikhou Kouyate delighted to welcome Dimitri Payet back to pre-season training
- Senegal star scored West Ham United's first-ever goal at London Stadium
- No8 is targeting another strong season in Claret and Blue - his third as a Hammer
Cheikhou Kouyate has welcomed Dimitri Payet back to the West Ham United squad after a deserved summer break.
The Hammer of the Year returned for pre-season training on Friday – the morning after Kouyate had bagged the historic first goal at the Club’s new London Stadium home – after a storybook Euro 2016 with France.
The outstanding playmaker and Senegal midfielder dovetailed superbly during their first season as teammates, and Kouyate cannot wait to have Payet back on the pitch with him again when the Premier League season kicks-off at Chelsea on Monday evening.
“He is the best player at West Ham so all eyes will be focused on him now,” said Kouyate. “We will need him to play well for West Ham this season. Yes, Manchester City and Manchester United have nice teams but we are looking forward to playing them.”
While the presence of Payet and a host of other top-class players will give West Ham plenty of reasons for optimism for 2016/17, the No8 knows West Ham can take nothing for granted.
With Monday’s hosts, Manchester City, Manchester United, Everton and Southampton all bringing in new managers and players galore, Kouyate says Slaven Bilic’s squad need to hit top form as quickly as possible if they are to improve on last season’s seventh-place finish.
That said, he is not ruling anything out!
“We must stay humble, keep our feet on the ground,” said Kouyate. “All the games will be very difficult, we know that.
“But nothing is impossible in football now. If we keep together, anything is possible. Yes, it is possible for us to get to the Champions League. Why not?
“We all get on very well and we have a captain in Mark Noble who is fantastic and so good for the team. He motivates all the players. If you play as a team and work hard you can achieve a lot.”
Finally, Kouyate found time to reflect on his historic goal, which he netted just eight minutes into West Ham’s life at their new home.
The African’s flicked finish set his team on their way to a 3-0 UEFA Europa League third qualifying round win over NK Domzale, setting up a play-off round rematch with Romanian champions Astra Giurgiu for a place in the group stage.
“I am so proud to have scored the first goal,” he smiled. “The game was very important for the Club.
“This is a very big memory for me, a big moment. Historic. I don’t think the people who came to watch expected me to score the first goal!”