Ask a hundred people who they think will be the most influential player for West Ham this season, and I guarantee the first name on the majority of people’s lips will be Andy Carroll.
Others may choose the Hammers captain Kevin Nolan, the fl air of Ricardo Vaz Te or the delivery of Matt Jarvis, but for me, there’s only one player I am backing to shine from now until May, and that is the industrious Mark Noble. Noble is the unsung hero of this West Ham team, tirelessly working for himself and the rest of the team, clocking up miles upon miles in each game, for little or no praise.
He is the club’s longestserving player, the engine that makes Sam Allardyce’s team tick, and the scary thought? He is only 25 and has made almost 200 firstteam appearances. Many fans will remember the 17-year-old making his debut in the league cup and being tipped to follow in the footsteps of the likes of Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Frank Lampard. So why, therefore, is Noble still donning the sacred colours of claret and blue? The answer is simple; Noble didn’t know, and subsequently managers were unsure, what his most influential position was.
He was thrust into the first team as a creative and attacking midfielder, but it soon became apparent that Noble didn’t have the speed for this role. Seasons seemed to pass the midfielder by, and some fans I know questioned the need to have him in the team. Suddenly ‘being West Ham through and through’ or being a ‘West Ham fan’ wasn’t enough to warrant his place in the team.
Noble was being compared to Scott Parker week in, week out, a midfielder with six years more experience than the Canning Town-born player. This comparison led to Noble being left in Parker’s shadow, why? Because Parker was playing in Noble’s position. Ask yourself who made those covering tackles in our last Premier League season? Who was coming deep to collect the ball from the centrebacks before switching the play to the flank? The answer is Parker.
The best thing about losing Parker was the coming of age of Noble, and the player admits that a season in the Championship did him the world of good. “I played loads of games, 50 games, and the more games you play the more experience you get,” said Noble. “Obviously they weren’t of the quality that the Premier League will be, we know that, but I played in the Premier League for five years, I know what it’s about.” That experience came in the form of Noble playing in a deeper position, helping to protect the back four and then start the Hammers’ attacks.
Sure Nolan took the plaudits for scoring crucial goals, but who allowed him to be in those advanced positions in the first place? You guessed it, Noble was covering his captain.
Allardyce makes no attempt to hide the fact that he likes his 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formations and this has been perfect for Noble, an unselfish player that doesn’t mind where the goals come from or how the team wins, just that it happens. “I played 90 per cent of last season in the holding role and let the likes of Nobby go forward and score goals,” said Noble. “As long as we are winning games and picking up points, I don’t really mind who scores. It’ll be nice to get a few goals but we will just see what happens.”
Wise words from the midfielder, and it is inevitable that Noble will get his name on the scoresheet this season. And those goals will mostly come from the penalty spot. Noble didn’t miss a single spot-kick last season, and will be looking to protect that record this season. So, during the next West Ham game, look out for the No.16 in claret and blue, and just take a few minutes to watch and admire him.
The Fulham game was the perfect example of how much Noble means to this West Ham team. Sure Carroll took the plaudits along with Nolan and Vaz Te, but Noble was hands down my man of the match. The statistics don’t lie, and Noble was everywhere that Saturday afternoon. He ended the game with a pass rate of 98 per cent, and a tackling rate of 100 per cent, which tells you everything you need to know about his performance. He tracked back, he tackled, he took the ball off the centre-backs under pressure, spun on a six-pence before playing the simple pass to the full-back. Sound like someone familiar? Sound like our Scotty?
Noble may not grab the headlines like Parker did, but I for one, believe he deserves all the praise that he can get. Oh, and Mr Gold and Mr Sullivan? Make Noble a contract offer he can’t refuse, or you risk losing a key component of this West Ham team, the engine room of the side, and a future Hammers captain in my eyes.