Mark Noble on Declan Rice, David Moyes and West Ham’s season
If anyone knows the ups and downs of life at West Ham United, it is Mark Noble.
Born in Canning Town, a fan all his life, a player from the age of 11 to his retirement last year at 35, after a few months of downtime and holidays with his family, Noble returned to the Hammers in January as their sporting director.
This season has been spent struggling at the wrong end of the Premier League despite an impressive £160m summer spend, aimed at building on consecutive top-seven finishes.
But, the club won the prestigious FA Youth Cup for the first time in 24 years by beating Arsenal last month; overcame Manchester United at the weekend to virtually assure their top-flight status and are now looking forward to a Europa Conference League semi-final first-leg with AZ Alkmaar, a potential final in Prague on 7 June, and a first trophy since 1980.
“You have to take the rough with the smooth at West Ham, it has always been that way,” Noble told BBC Sport.
“That is why we all love the club. Sometimes it breaks your heart, it really does. But there are times where it brings you tears of joy.”
West Ham avoid managerial churn
Moyes has felt the force of the discontent, with fans turning against him, particularly during the 4-0 hammering at Brighton on 4 March, when they sang “sacked in the morning” at one stage.
But chairman David Sullivan stood firm. He reasoned it would be counterproductive to get rid of Moyes, then try to find someone like the Scot who could rescue the situation.
It meant Moyes did not join the record-breaking 14 top-flight managers who have lost their jobs this season.
“No-one has hidden from it,” said Noble. “The manager has been clear. The Premier League is a demanding league and for a long time we have been in a relegation battle.
“He knows the game as well as anyone. He knows the pressure he was under. Fourteen managers have been changed this year in the Premier League. It is madness.
“We stuck with David and it looks like he has got us out of trouble and we are in a European semi-final, which is fantastic. We can start looking forward now.”
The reduced lifespan of a manager is one of the reasons why going down that avenue holds little appeal for Noble, even though he has often been thought of as being ideal for the role.
He is not prepared to sacrifice long-awaited time with his family and risk having to uproot them for a job that might only last a couple of weeks.
Besides, he is only interested in one club, And Noble feels he has more to offer in his current role.
“I have been at the club since I was 11, my son is in the academy and I have never done any badges,” he said.
“I love giving the young lads pointers and telling them how they can improve but I don’t want to stand on the side of the pitch and get sacked after six months.
“Once you are sacked, there is probably no way back for you at a club and I feel I still have so much to offer this one, to keep improving it behind the scenes. Hopefully once I have the longevity, I can affect it a lot more from the position I am in than I would as a manager.”
Noble’s experience on relegation battles
Upon Noble’s return to West Ham in January, it was clear there was little money to spend.
So, in addition to making alterations around the club’s junior sides, he took it upon himself to talk directly to a group of first-team players who, largely, had enjoyed two seasons of success and plaudits, finishing sixth and seventh to qualify for Europe through their league position for the first time in their history.
“We weren’t doing great in the league and, for a while, it was a stressful time,” he said.
“I was sitting on the sidelines when I was used to being able to help on the pitch.
“It was a case of speaking to the players and letting them know what it’s like to be there because in truth, a lot of our players haven’t felt what it has been like this year, being in a relegation battle.
“But I have been through it many times, so I tried to give them my experience.”
‘Declan Rice is a better person than a player’
Given former West Ham captains include legendary duo Bobby Moore and Billy Bonds, who remain the only players to lead the club to significant trophy success, it means a lot to Noble that, in Declan Rice, he feels he has a worthy successor.
Rice’s ability on the field is unquestioned – Moyes called him the “probably the best English midfielder around” this week. He is a key figure in Gareth Southgate’s squad and a potential leader of his country at some point in the future.
Clearly, Rice is also a man in demand even though he has a year left on his contract, with the Hammers retaining the option for a further season after that. Arsenal are the latest club to be strongly linked with the 24-year-old.
But this week, he went viral on social media for the way he reacted after spotting a young fan sobbing in the London Stadium after the Manchester United victory purely because Rice was walking towards him.
“I didn’t shock me,” said Noble. “That is the way he is. He has such a big heart.
“It gave me a bit of comfort he was going to replace me as captain. He carries on the morals that I have and the love for the club and the fans.
“It was just a small little thing but when the Under-8s first sign we get all the families in and give them a shirt with their name on the back and videos. They have a great day.
“I was there and spoke to the parents but he showed up and all the kids jumped on him.
“Dec is a better person than a player and that is saying something.”