Since joining West Ham United from Newcastle for £4million at the start of last season, Kevin Nolan has continued to split opinion amongst the Hammers faithful. Made skipper by Sam Allardyce upon arrival, and seemingly the first name on the team sheet every week, is Nolan really such a big, positive influence on the side, or is he holding us back?
When Nolan joined the club a year and a half ago, the general consensus amongst West Ham fans was that it was a very good signing. 28 at the time, Nolan had been a successful and very consistent Premier League midfielder for a number of years. He managed 40 goals in just under 300 games for Bolton followed by a successful stint at St. James Park, scoring 29 goals in 85 appearances and helping the Magpies to promotion back into the Premier League.
Following a productive season back in the top flight on the Toon, it was a surprise and pleasant one at that, that Nolan opted to drop down a division to join up with his old pal Allardyce. With this decision as well as the fact that Allardyce had always got the best out of Nolan, in particular at Bolton, the feeling was very positive surrounding his signature.
Despite just signing for the club there was little surprise that Nolan was given the captains armband. After the departure of Scott Parker and former captain Matthew Upson, there was little other else.
Nolan managed 12 goals in 43 games as we gained promotion from the Championship via the playoff route. He has found the net 6 times on 23 occasions in the Premier League this time round making him our top goalscorer this season.
All in all as goalscoring records go for an attacking midfielder, it’s a pretty impressive one. Last season in particular and to some extent this; Nolan had that wonderful knack of popping up in the right position to knick a goal, often a crucial one.
Despite this record, why does the skipper divide opinion so greatly? Why do many West Ham fans, myself included, question his worth in the team.
Firstly let’s look at Nolan’s strong points. Other than being a goalscoring midfielder, he is technically very good and hugely experienced when it comes to a relegation battle. The former Bolton man reads the game exceptionally well and his understanding with Andy Carroll is impressive. When Carroll plays, Nolan always looks a much better player.
As a captain, I rate him highly. In my opinion Nolan is a leader, he is vocal and certainly seems to have the respect of his team mates. From what I have heard he is also a top professional and never one to cause trouble or be in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. From what fellow West Ham players have said he is very influential on the training ground and in the dressing room.However, does great leadership qualities and being a positive influence off the pitch instantly merit you a place in the first team, no.
When Kevin Nolan is not playing well, something that has happened far too often as of late, it’s a terrible sight. The Englishman is slow, immobile and often off the pace. And with the likes of Mark Noble in the midfield also, there is an extreme lack of speed and athleticism. Far too often Nolan is merely a passenger in the midfield and offers very little both defensively and going forward. He plays in such a key position, linking attack and defence and on current form; he is not performing his role well enough.
The real worrying aspect with the whole Nolan situation is Allardyce’s reluctance to drop or even take his captain off when things are not working. There have been calls from the majority of West Ham fans to play two up front over recent weeks as we continue to struggle for goals but if Nolan starts, it makes it very difficult to go with two up top. After all, in my opinion Nolan can certainly not play in a midfield two behind a strike pairing. He is at times a burden to the team.
So there you have it, the enigma that is Kevin Nolan. Love him or hate him, he is our skipper and is passionate about the West Ham cause. Personally I would like to see Nolan dropped and West Ham reverting to a 4-4-2. It would give us more options and unpredictability going forward and with Diame and Noble in the midfield, I would still be confident with the side from a defensive point of view. The way we are playing at the moment, we need something different, a bit more energy and creativity in that midfield, and replacing Nolan may well be the answer. Whether Allardyce finally drops his ‘undroppable’ midfielder remains to be seen, somehow I highly doubt it.
Time to deliver skipper, the jury is still out.