Mark Noble has been a cornerstone of West Ham since the mid-2000s; but the current season is the first time that he has been consistently outside the starting XI since breaking into the team.
Moyes appears to have moved on without his 33-year-old captain, who is transitioning into a new phase of his career. What is the future for ‘Mr. West Ham’?
To answer that I want to start by looking to the past because for the past 15 years, Mark Noble has been central to the West Ham story.
He joined at 11 and came through the youth system; getting his first sustained run in the senior team during the 2004/05 season.
He came off the bench in the Play-off Final win over Preston North End which secured a return to the Premier League and scooped the Young Hammer of the Year award.
It took a couple of seasons and successful loan spells at Hull City and Ipswich Town before he fully integrated himself into the first team, during the ‘Great Escape’ 2006/07 season.
And until the current campaign, he had yet to spend an extended period outside of the first team, his lowest league appearance tally being 26 games in 2010/11.
There is no denying that Nobes has become a club legend during the course of his 500+ appearances for the club. He’s also won Hammer of the Year twice, and scored 46 Premier League goals, second only to Paolo Di Canio.
He was also ever-present last season, making 33 league appearances and even complained in January that the team was too reliant on him after being knocked out of the FA Cup by West Brom, then of the Championship. Saying: ‘I’m 33 in May. I’ve been doing this for 15, 16 years of my life. It’s half my life. At a club at this level with the money we’ve spent, you can’t rely on me. You can’t rely on me to come on at half-time during an FA Cup game.’
Nevertheless you’ll remember he continued to be heavily utilised, and was key to Moyes’ successful Project Restart midfield three alongside Declan Rice and Tomáš Souček.
Looking at the present day and injury issues meant that Noble’s start to 2020/21 was disjointed, contributing to a change in system shifting from last season’s 4-5-1 to a 5-4-1.
With Rice and Souček playing so well in the middle of the park it was difficult to imagine how Noble would fit back in after he returned to full health.
We got the answer in the loss to Chelsea and first half against Brighton, when Moyes reverted to an extremely conservative 4-5-1 in light of injuries to Arthur Masuaku and Michail Antonio. We didn’t manage a shot on target during three disastrous three halves of football.
Of course, this lack of attack can’t be entirely blamed on Noble, but he isn’t good enough to oust Rice and Souček from central midfield.
When West Ham play with three in the middle it is a more turgid style that offers little going forward, as seen by the ultra-conservative approach taken to begin the Brighton game.
Noble was replaced at half time with us 1-0 down and the new attacking system managed to salvage a 2-2 draw.
At this point, Noble’s best chance of retaking his permanent role in the starting lineup looks to be if Declan Rice makes his heavily rumoured move to Chelsea.
Noble’s contract expires at the end of the season, but this could open a path for him to take an increased role in the backroom staff at the club.
Noble is still an important figure behind the scenes, notably influencing new captain Declan Rice, who told the club’s official website: ‘I’m really lucky that I’ve got someone like Nobes there to help me along the way.’
Noble’s behind the scene influence is important enough to keep him in the team, and not just as cover for injuries.
Wayne Rooney could prove inspiration for Noble’s next move, transitioning into a player-coaching role, given his strong presence behind the scenes.
When signing his most recent contract Noble mentioned the possibility of taking up coaching when his playing career ends.
Based on recent performances, it is hard to see how Noble will fit into the future of West Ham’s first team, he might have to look into a backroom role.
It also underlines the impressive consistency of Billy Bonds who made 799 appearances for the club; it is difficult to imagine a scenario where Noble is able to make a further 300 appearances to beat the record.
It has been sad seeing Noble, outside of the first team lacking real hope of contributing outside of the odd cameo off the bench or cup games.
However, his name can’t remain on the team sheet based on merit alone. There are players who give us a better chance of winning than Noble and for the time being he doesn’t fit into the current system.
It would be nice to see Noble continue to be involved in West Ham from a backroom capacity, where he can add his influence to the squad.
It is entirely likely that he will find his way back into the team, but for the time being he will have to be patient about playing time.
Billy Bonds would be the best model for this, club legend, transitioning into coaching, but hopefully without the acrimonious ending to the story.