When a player has played for a club for the best part of fifteen years, it can be easy to take them for granted, and with West Ham captain Mark Noble, there is a case to be made that some fans have done just that at times.
It’s hard to overestimate his impact and influence inside the dressing room at the Hammers, and this glowing tribute from Manuel Lanzini kind of sums things up:
“At West Ham, Mark is a legend. He’s a very good captain and a very good player. If you ever need anything, not just on the pitch or the club, but even in your life, he’ll help you. He’s played for West Ham for a long time, I think 15 years. I was in school! Crazy.”
Having played for the club for so long, it’s inevitable that a player will go through peaks and troughs in form, and Noble has certainly been through that, but despite the challenges, he has persevered and continues to be a key player for the side.
It was no coincidence that Declan Rice struggled somewhat in his first two games of the season. It felt like he was having to do the jobs of two players against Manchester City and Brighton.
Without wanting to criticise Jack Wilshere too much, he is still trying to find his feet after a lengthy spell out injured and he is not capable of putting in a shift in the same way Noble can.
With the Hammers captain back in the side against Watford, the balance in midfield was restored. The Rice/Noble partnership from last season seems to be in full working order, with the players working in tandem to give the team a solid foundation to build from.
Rice has the energy and aggression to make tackles and get on the ball and as the game went on his confidence grew with the assured presence of Noble alongside him.
As Lanzini says, his personal leadership qualities are present both on and off the pitch and when that is missing from the side, it’s apparent Manuel Pellegrini’s side can lose their way.
Noble won’t always be the one to make the telling contribution in matches, but when he is called upon from the penalty shot, he is guaranteed to deliver. At Vicarage Road, his early spot-kick gave the team a good platform to go on to get the three points.
At other times, his work will go unnoticed. Rallying the troops after they go a goal down, or making his feelings known in the dressing room after matches. He revealed after the 1-0 home defeat to Wolves last September that he effectively read the riot act to his teammates.
It worked as they won 3-1 away at Everton following that home loss, and his return to the side almost 12 months later has coincided with another improved performance.
With Pellegrini the softly spoken schoolmaster, Noble appears to be the sergeant major. Leaders don’t grow on trees and Hammers supporters will be delighted he is back in the first team after a difficult start to the season.