There are few managers in the modern Premier League that can pick their best starting 11 with confidence. Th e disposable nature of managers makes their lives difficult, at the best of times. But when Slaven Bilic took over West Ham, there was a man who was a certain starter for him and would represent the club on and off the field. Th at man was Mark Noble.
We could never call into question the commitment to West Ham United from Noble and also the passion displayed whilst playing and in the dressing room. But, it has to be said, that recent months have cast a mild doubt on whether the 29-year-old could be considered one of the Hammers’ best players in terms of capability, especially when times call for skill over enthusiasm. Noble’s fi ft h booking of the season against Stoke earned him a timely suspension meaning he would miss the clash with Spurs at White Hart Lane.
For me, and seemingly for other West Ham fans too, this didn’t present the doom-and-gloom scenario that it might have at the same point of last season. General consensus on the ‘online terraces’ was that this wouldn’t be a big loss and that actually his time for a spell out of the claret and blue limelight was overdue. Th is scenario played out a little differently for me, personally. I was annoyed at him for having fallen through the suspension trap door and desperately wanted him to play against Tottenham, just because it’s Tottenham.
It wasn’t until the match post-mortem that hindsight put my head over my heart and I realised that it wasn’t a game that Noble should have been present in. To coin a cliché, it turned into an emotional rollercoaster, one which I couldn’t have seen ‘Mr West Ham’ remain collected in. Th at’s been quite a common theme this season, although he has yet to collect a red card.
His yellow card tally for 16/17 is six in 20 appearances; but it’s surprising that’s not more. There’s a balance between being a protective, defensive captain and being fair to officials or the opposition – that balance is getting ever more difficult for players to maintain, so we can understand that frustrations can boil over in times of hardship. Th e question is whether this genuine passion for the club and his teammates is clouding Mark Noble’s footballing ability. Is he just too tense to play at times?
It’s likely that we’ve seen his peak come and go, and for several games this season we’ve watched a player that has misplaced passes like it’s going out of fashion. Following Bilic’s open criticism of his team’s training intensity after heavy defeats to Manchester United and Arsenal, the London-born captain was encouraged to ramp up his responsibility as captain of a dressing room that he knows pretty well.
Noble needs to lead by example and if that means brushing up on footballing ability, then maybe some extra hours are in order. He just has to level his head and in turn, his passing and movement capability will come back to him.
All right, he has rarely been comparable to the best players in the Premier League but we got a couple of seasons out of him in which he was almost irreplaceable for his footballing brain and precise tackling. It does seem that our Mark is unsettled. Even his appearance record is a little shakier this season, with Bilic noting that sometimes 90 minutes is just too much for him.
That’s understandable, isn’t it? I think all involved with the club have found this season and last slightly nervy for multiple reasons and for that purpose, calls from a small volume of fans to sell West Ham’s captain are ridiculous. Conclusively, Mark Noble is a man who wears his heart on his sleeve. Mostly, his below-par performances can be related back to frustration at the soul of the club and maybe that’s what, deep down, we love about him.
He’s having a blip and probably isn’t one of our best players at the moment if all are on form, but I certainly wouldn’t want to tarnish all the good he’s done for the Hammers over the years by saying we should cash in or drop Captain Noble.