When it comes to England, Mark Noble is the invisible man.
He’s one of the most consistent, talented and reliable English midfielders – and yet he’s never managed to grab even a single senior England cap.
It’s true that he came into his own in a time when players were largely picked based on whether or not they were playing for a top six team – and Mark Noble most definitely wasn’t.
Although he was captain of the U21s at the 2009 European Championships, when England ended the tournament as runners-up, he never made that step into a midfield clogged with top-of-the-table talent such as Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes.
At 32-years-old, Noble is on the wrong side of the hill to make a senior England debut – but he’s arguably in the best form of his career. As one of the Premier League’s most consistent and prolific Englishmen, is it time to talk about whether he’s still due that call up?
His former teammates certainly think so, according to a series of recent talkSPORT interviews. Former teammate Anton Ferdinand said: ‘I still don’t think he’s appreciated enough. If he was a young player breaking through now he’d walk into the England team.’
Gary O’Neill agrees regarding the timing of his breakthrough, saying that if Noble was ‘one of the young lads coming through now then he would’ve gone on to get plenty of caps’.
He added that when it comes to Noble, you have to wonder ‘how on earth has this guy never once played for his country. It still baffles me a bit to be honest.’
His former managers feel the same. It’s rare to find oneself agreeing with the loathsome Big Sam Allardyce – except over the deliciousness of a pint of gravy – but his recent comments on what Mark Noble brings to a side have been appreciated among Hammers fans.
‘His knowledge of the game is incredible. Whatever he loses in terms of speed he makes up with his brain which moves him into positions other players wouldn’t have thought of getting into. He’s always thinking one or two steps ahead of everyone – he’s such an intelligent footballer.’
Another of his former managers agrees. Alan Curbishley saved us from relegation, signed future Real Madrid player/legend Julien Faubert, and then played the ultimate office card and sued West Ham United for constructive dismissal – so safe to say he knows the club and its players both inside and out.
Managing Mark Noble and making him a mainstay in the first team was one of his many great West Ham wins alongside the infamous and financially costly 1-0 away win at Manchester United that kept us in the Premier League and lined the pockets of Sheffield United for years to come.
It’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about what makes West Ham tick.
In particular, he’s more than familiar with Mark Noble’s work and he echoes the sentiments of Allardyce when talking about Noble’s missed opportunities.
‘When I was playing for West Ham we had Billy Bonds, and most people said he was the best player to never play for England, and you’ve got to feel the same about Mark in many respects too. He’s been playing in the Premier League for over a decade and there’s not many English players that will do that, if ever again.
‘The levels of consistency that he has produced over the years are almost unheard of. Mark is the perfect professional and the perfect midfield player in my eyes.
The trouble for Noble is that while he’s in the form of his career, his youth has escaped him. Southgate is beginning to value form and skill over league position, but Southgate is also focused on the future – and that means bringing youth into the squad.
Mark Noble’s best chance of serving his country on the football pitch no longer comes from what he knows, it comes from what he teaches – and that means passing his knowledge on to the next generation, specifically to Declan Rice.
Noble is in the fortunate position to be playing the role of a lifetime in being a leader and a mentor to one of the most talented English prospects on the pitch right now, and his influence is already being seen when you look at Declan’s confidence and cool composure on the international stage.
That it never happened for Noble is unfortunate – but his opportunity to have an impact on England is just beginning when it comes to the young English players coming through the ranks.
Noble may be just one intelligent footballer, but when he shares that knowledge with the next generation we have the opportunity to create an entire team of intelligent footballers – all thanks to the man who deserved a cap of his own – the invisible Englishman, Mark Noble. BBM