So, we’re in the final straight. There are only a few months remaining of Mark Noble’s 18-year playing career at West Ham.
There aren’t many players left in world football who can boast of such a stint with one club. The modern game and the finances involved just doesn’t really suit careers like Noble’s, yet he will retire this summer having achieved something every single one of us grew up dreaming of achieving.
He’s not only been a one club man for his entire career – short loan spells with Ipswich and Hull City aside – he’s also done it as a player for his boyhood club. He really is the luckiest man in the world in our eyes. What a man. Mr West Ham.
Arguably the most impressive fact of his long career in claret and blue is the fact he’s managed to keep his place in the starting XI, apart from this season, obviously, under eight different managers since Alan Pardew handed him his first-team debut in August 2004.
That’s some record for a player who many outside of West Ham will no doubt write off as an average player.
To survive so many changes in management is pretty outrageous when you consider the sheer volume of players who have come and gone in east London over the last 18 years.
During that period and at the time of writing, he’s made 540 first-team appearances, 407 coming in the Premier League, scored 62 goals and registered 59 assists.
He’s been on the winning side 216 times, been on the end of 197 defeats and played in 127 battling, entertaining and sometimes boring draws.
He’s racked up 102 yellow cards and seen red five times. He’s scored in every single competition he’s played in. He literally has been there, seen it and done it.
The club captain is often credited with being a proper leader, too. One who is fundamental to the recent success of the squad under David Moyes, despite no longer being first-choice in the middle of the park, and one who has worn the armband with ultimate pride for so many years.
So as we begin to look ahead to giving the great man a wonderful send off at the end of the season, I’m looking back at the best XI he’s played alongside since his debut against Southend United in the League Cup in 2004.
There are literally so many formations, combinations and players to get this absolutely spot on but I have selected five who the man himself named in a recent appearance on Rio Ferdinand’s Vibe With FIVE podcast.
If he says they’re the best players he’s played with, who am I to argue against that?
He does, too, point out that the players he’s selected aren’t all necessarily the most talented, which is important to remember when reading on.
The other six are my own selections and are players who I believe were the most talented in the remaining positions.
Goalkeeper – Adrian
This could’ve gone to Robert Green and no one would’ve questioned it, but hear me out. The Spaniard was our goalkeeper during what many believe to be Noble’s best few seasons as a West Ham player. Especially during that final season at the Boleyn Ground, when Noble had his most impressive season in claret and blue. During that period, Adrian’s presence and incredible passion perfectly complemented Noble’s loyalty and tenacity in midfield. He wasn’t a bad goalkeeper, either.
Left-Back – Aaron Cresswell
In his podcast interview, Noble says Cresswell is one of the most underrated players in England and it’s difficult to disagree with him. The left-back has been superb for West Ham and whenever he’s not in the team, we don’t just lose defensive stability on the left hand side of defence, but our attacking threat is also significantly weakened. Noble is also the only player to have played more top-flight games for West Ham than Cresswell’s 243.
Right-Back – Pablo Zabaleta
Many may have gone for Joey O’Brien due to his cult-hero status but I just couldn’t ignore Zabaleta and the quality he had for us, despite signing for us at the age of 32. He was just as outstanding for us as he was for Manchester City, and by far the most talented right-back to have played in the same team as Noble.
Centre-Back – Winston Reid
Need I explain? Reid arrived in 2010 as an unknown ‘World Cup superstar’ and left only recently as a West Ham hero. He’s another who featured for West Ham during Noble’s best years in east London, and his place in this XI was pretty much a guarantee. After all, he gave all of us Hammers fans, including Noble, the perfect Upton Park send off and for that, we’ll forever be grateful.
Centre-Back – James Collins
Not only are they good mates off the pitch, they were both key members of West Ham for many years. Ginge is a cult-hero but when you think of Ginge’s time in claret and blue (both spells), it doesn’t take long for Noble to come to mind as well. A heroic pair who almost go hand-in-hand when considering Noble’s career.
Defensive Midfield – Declan Rice
Noble named Rice in his podcast as one of the five best players he’s played with, which is mad when you consider Rice didn’t become a first-team regular until Noble’s 14th season. With 177 first-team appearances under his belt already, he could go on to surpass Noble’s long career in east London, although that’s a bit of a pipe dream, isn’t it?
Midfield – Scott Parker
Scott Parker is one of the best captains West Ham have had in recent memory and you have to wonder whether much of Noble’s leadership qualities were born out of playing alongside Parker for West Ham. The influence he had on Noble’s career is huge and that can’t be forgotten. That’s not to say Noble would’ve never gone on to become the captain he is today without that time alongside Parker, but he certainly made a positive impact on his journey.
Midfield – Dimitri Payet
Another one named by Noble on Rio’s podcast, you just can’t ignore the sheer talent Payet had and the influence he had on the greatness of West Ham’s Farewell Boleyn season will always be remembered fondly, regardless of the manner in which he left the club a couple of years later. It’s no surprise he was named by Noble.
Striker – Carlos Tevez
Again, need I explain? Another of Noble’s suggestions and it’s not surprising. His world class talent kept us in the Premier League that season and Noble, quite rightly, remembers him as being crucial to the Great Escape.
Striker – Teddy Sheringham
The final player on Noble’s list and arguably the most interesting. Sheringham was at West Ham when Noble broke into the team for the first time and on the podcast he raves about the former Man United’s striker’s quality and incredible footballing brain, despite him being in his 40’s at the time.
Striker – Carlton Cole
Only Mark Noble and Aaron Cresswell have played more Premier League games for West Ham than Cole’s 216. With 41 top-flight goals and 25 assists during many years playing alongside Noble over two spells, Cole’s place in this squad cannot and should not be questioned.
Special mentions, and arguably an extended bench, go to Rob Green, Angelo Ogbonna, Joey O’Brien, Lucas Neill, Alessandro Diamanti, Yossi Benayoun, Dean Ashton, Hayden Mullins, Marko Arnautovic, Michail Antonio, Manuel Lanzini, Marlon Harewood, Kevin Nolan and Andy Carroll.
Noble’s Worst XI
While there were so many brilliant players to have played with Mark Noble, there have also been some absolute shockers who have had the privilege of playing in the same team.
Put simply, it’s probably even more difficult to pick an XI of the worst players to have played with Noble than it is to pick the best, even if I did do it with help from the main man himself.
But in goal, it’s difficult to look past Roberto as the worst, who often looked like he’d won a competition to play in goal when he covered for the injured Lukasz Fabianski a few seasons ago.
In defence, the likes of Roger Johnson, Jose Fonte and Emanuel Pogatez are names that instantly come to mind, as do Wayne Bridge, Lionel Scaloni and Walter Lopez.
In midfield, there are probably hundreds who are worth mentioning. Kieron Dyer, Nigel Quashie, Gokhan Tore and Carlos Sanchez are the first I can think of.
And then there’s up front, where pretty much every single striker we’ve signed over the last 18 years has an argument for their inclusion. Simone Zaza, Jonathan Calleri, Savio Nsereko, Benni McCarthy, Mido and Enner Valencia are all worthwhile names in this bracket.
And the worst manager? Avram Grant, obviously.