In a season of such contrasts, the form of our Club captain Mark Noble is surely one of the most notable. Last season we collectively called for an England call up for our leader and yet, this season, such a call up would seem to be a distant dream for the Canning Town boy. In fact, if he continues to play the way he is, he could well end up joining Ray Winstone as a face for a betting firm. Can you imagine it, “Football betting made easy at Will Hill Online” being beamed to us by Noble at half time in the matches.
For any West Ham fan it is an almost impossible task to criticise Noble. He represents everything that we treasure about our Club. He is a hard working family man, fiercely passionate and above all he has been loyal throughout his entire career. A terribly over used cliche but he is Mr West Ham. And yet his performances on the pitch this season have fallen well short of the heights of our last campaign and perhaps his career in general.
Of course he is far from alone, many of our squad have disappointed this season and perhaps, following the emotional farewell to our beloved Boleyn Ground, this was always inevitable. Last season represented something that few, if any, West Ham fans will ever experience again, leaving as we did our home of over 100 years. The effect of this on our performances last year can never be determined but it would be a fool who would think that it didn’t lift us above where we might otherwise have been and indeed to think that we wouldn’t struggle to reach those heights again this season.
Noble is becoming to Bilic what Kevin Nolan became to Allardyce. A player who is not justifying his place in the starting eleven, but who is almost impossible to leave out. I for one would struggle to see Noble sitting on the bench week in week out but I do believe that, on current form alone, this is perhaps where he should be. Our general lack of attacking pace was terribly exposed this week in the fixture against Chelsea, who handed us a lesson in fast paced, counter attacking football with their opening goal. A goal which flowed directly from a poor decision from Noble, who with a perfect opportunity to swing the ball back into the opponent’s box elected to play a much riskier short pass, which left our defence fatally exposed and out of position.
With Noble in a central midfield position we lack pace and creativity, with our captain more often than not turning to face his own goal and playing a backwards pass. This slowing down of our forward movement, however brief, allows the opposition to organise and drop back into their defensive positions. Noble’s defensive qualities are without question but his creativity and decision making is. In Pedro Obiang we have a player rapidly improving in that defensive midfield role. A player who is making himself a strong candidate for Hammer of the year on current form. A midfield pairing of Obiang and Kouyate offers far more, in my opinion, than Noble does.
Should Noble see out his career at West Ham, which I very much hope he does, he will always be remembered as one of our most loyal servants, one of our own, but perhaps the time has come for difficult decisions to be made and a new leader to step forward.