He may have only clocked up three starts and 11 substitute appearances in the Premier League this campaign but Mark Noble is now officially the penalty king of Europe.
Last summer The Sportsman revealed that Mark Noble’s penalty conversion rate was second to only Robert Lewandowski’s in world football of the last 20 years of those that had taken at least 30 penalties.
The Polish marksman had converted 91% of his spot kicks, Noble was on 90.5% ahead of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and a whole host of other more illustrious names.
But after the Bayern striker missed a spot kick against Hertha Berlin last month, Noble now has the highest penalty conversion rate in Europe’s Top 5 leagues for the last 11 years – even though his last spot kick was well over a year ago.
It is ironic that had Noble taken the penalty against United in that July, rather than gifting it to Antonio, so the striker could get a bonus, he may have surpassed the deadliest striker in world football today, on his own merits.
The club captain may not have featured often this season, but the aforementioned famine of penalties, meant that his absence has not been felt from the spot.
But with his future opportunities looking more and more sparse, it does bode the question – who succeeds him as our penalty king?
We got our first glimpse of life after Noble last month when West Ham fans witnessed two incredibly rare sights simultaneously.
The first was the awarding of a penalty during this season’s campaign – after Jesse Lingard had been cynically scythed down by Chris Basham.
Moments earlier we had seen a penalty claim be ruled out by VAR and it felt as if the tale of the season was to continue.
We were the last club in the Premier League and all of the professional English divisions to see the referee point to the spot in our favour.
Not since July 2020 had we been given a spot kick when away to Manchester United, which was duly dispatched by Michail Antonio.
The one prior to that was against Leicester City in January of 2020. Whilst the rest of the league was enjoying the fruit of the VAR spoils, so to speak, with innocuous touches and brushes of finger nails seeing their sides win penalties galore, West Ham have had three in the last 14 months.
The reasons for this are a matter of debate. There is, of course, the ‘big team bias’ that see’s the likes of Salah and Bruno Fernades win penalties that others simply don’t get.
With the artistry of the way that Salah and co ‘win’ penalties, if the on-field referee gives the penalty, it then becomes difficult for VAR to unequivocally prove that the contact wasn’t really sufficient to constitute a foul.
The big players for the big teams tend to get the benefit of the doubt initially and then VAR are left hamstrung by technicality.
There is also the fact that what we love about the current incumbents of the claret and blue – their hard work and physicality, coupled with tenacity, determination and honesty – may count against them.
The perception that we will fight and scrap, means that when that physicality is matched by the opposition – even in the penalty box – it is potentially seen as something we should be able to brush off.
For example, given Soucek’s propensity to be strong in a 50/50 challenge, refs then deem these type of tackles as part of how he plays.
So when he is on the receiving end of one – as he was against WBA – it is brushed away as good old fashioned tackle, despite the fact that it was a fraction late and their defender didn’t get the ball.
The same can be said of others like Michail Anotinio, any physical contact with him is seen as fair game because he is seen as such a strong player.
The honesty of the team also doesn’t ‘help’ in the penalty stakes either. We are not a team of players that will throw themselves down and roll about just because there has been contact.
We would rather keep fighting for the ball and have the refs pull it back, which they haven’t done.
The honesty of the players is to be commended. The performances of the refs in some cases has not been.
The second rare sight on that day against Sheffield United was the dispute and doubt over who was to take the spot kick.
Jesse Lingard picked up the ball having been robbed of a likely goal by the defenders desperate lunge.
Captain Declan Rice, who was going to take the penalty that was ruled out earlier in the game, came over to claim the ball.
The skipper won out and took the chance with the same level of self assuredness that he has led us with all season.
But this uncertainty over who would take it, and dare I admit whether they would score, is not something that we have had to contend with for over a decade.
During the last 10 years there has been only one man to whom we have turned at times like these, and his name is Mark Noble. And we always knew he would score.
As for now, Rice seems a sensible choice. The captain elect will, barring injuries, play every week and has shown that he seems to grow the more responsibility is placed on his shoulders.
He and Antonio both hold a 100% record so far but it is admittedly a small sample size.
However, Said Benrahma also has a 100% success rate, having taken and converted six spot kicks over his career. Maybe he is the man to pick up Noble’s mantle?
Whoever it is that replaces Noble stepping up to the spot – we can only hope they rule as long and as well as our penalty kick king.