We need to talk about Kevin. You know the guy – stocky, aggressive, team captain and offside-aficionado, Kevin Nolan.
He’s been out injured for a significant period of time, and truthfully, the team hasn’t really missed him. You’ve got to admit, it’s a strange situation for a team to not only survive their captain’s absence but also to thrive during it.
West Ham have arguably played their best football in years without Nolan, so is time up for Kevin Nolan or can he still make an impact? He certainly cut a frustrating figure last season. He slumped in form from the tough midfielder we saw in previous seasons to a sluggish and bad tempered nuisance.
His rumoured off-pitch issues seemed to come onto the pitch with him, and his perpetual inability to understand the offside rule caused any number of frustrations with the West Ham faithful. His reckless red cards in late 2013 and early 2014 were a low point in both his career and his relationship with the fans. Since then, he’s put in some much better performances, particularly in February 2014, but I’m not sure he’s done enough to deserve a permanent starting place and the captain’s armband in the current West Ham side.
Equally, I’d be mad to suggest there’s no place in the squad what-so-ever for the man who has been our top scorer for the past two years. Nolan has put in some brilliant work for the Hammers in the past, and I don’t think it’s wise to forget that so quickly but equally I don’t want West Ham to go straight back to playing a style of football which was physically painful to watch solely to make use of Kevin Nolan.
My hope is that we can find a way to re-harness the good bits of Kevin into this new-look, “sexy,” football-playing side. Kevin Nolan will need to adjust to this system and focus on what he’s good at, being intrusive, aggressive and ready to pounce on any loose ball and turn it into the net, in order to stay a part of this club.
He made a difference to the side when he came on against Manchester United, and was unlucky not to score/have that ‘goal’ counted. In the time he came on he brought a strong energy to the attack, and created at least three strong chances. This is something Nolan is good at, and this should be utilized.
However, when it comes to running the midfield, his time may have been and gone. While Nolan has been injured, his replacements have done an outstanding job in his absence. Cheikhou Kouyate is a wonderful addition to the squad, and in the best game of our season, Mark Noble made for both an outstanding captain and a midfield maestro, controlling everything moving forwards and backwards with confidence and ease.
I can’t with good conscience suggest we drop Stewart Downing from his new role, or Alex Song, Kouyate or Noble in order to put Nolan into a role he doesn’t excel in.
So how do we solve a problem like Kevin? We hope that if he’s the player that Sam Allardyce thinks he is, he has the ability to adapt to a new role which capitalises on his strengths, and allows him to still play a part in West Ham’s season, even if it isn’t the part he’s used to, or was hoping to come back to when he first got injured. And we also hope that one day someone explains the offside rule to him.