Mark Noble led by example as West Ham beat Rapid Vienna to qualify for the Europa League round of 16.
Noble came through the ranks at West Ham, making his debut in 2004/05 when the Hammers were still in the Championship. He scored his first goal for the club in August 2007. Now, 14 years later at the 11th attempt, he finally scored his first goal in Europe.
This will be Noble’s 18th season as a West Ham player. It’s one where he has taken a firm step back in terms of playing. His 536 appearances puts him close enough to Jimmy Ruffell’s 548 to actually feasibly overtake him and become sixth in West Ham’s all-time appearance-maker.
Yet he hasn’t complained, hasn’t whinged. And more he didn’t walk out on the club in search of regular first-team football. Instead he stayed in East London to lead his boyhood side into their European adventure.
Noble has played in all five of West Ham’s Europa League games, starting three of them. Today was the first time he played all 90 minutes as West Ham chased a complicated win away from home, hoping to secure qualification.
There was no Declan Rice, no Michail Antonio, no Said Benrahma nor even the set-piece cheat code Aaron Cresswell. David Moyes had rested many of his stars ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Manchester City, but alongside the ever-reliable Tomas Soucek, Noble ran the show in Austria.
The 34-year-old rolled back the years with a calm and composed display. This wasn’t rampaging, marauding dominance, but cool, calm and collected confidence. Noble’s 106 touches was a game-high, as were his 83/92 passes completed and his 28 inside the opponent’s half.
He didn’t create any chances, he didn’t fly into any tackles, he just used all his experience and intelligence to keep the ball moving around the pitch and allow his more talented team-mates to do the damage.
◉ August 2007: Mark Noble scores his first Premier League goal
◉ November 2021: Mark Noble scores his first European goal (excluding qualifying)
Just the 14 years between the two. 😜 pic.twitter.com/HCHGWo0nLw
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) November 25, 2021
Noble managed the game superbly, ensuring that West Ham were never too phased by their hosts, and never really in danger of losing the match. The fact that West Ham managed to negotiate the match so comfortably to win the group speaks volumes to the leadership that Noble possesses, keeping everything in order.
Perhaps the greatest example of Noble’s influence and longevity is that sub Sonny Perkins, making his debut for West Ham off the bench in the second-half, was just six months old when Noble made his West Ham debut. Yet here they were, playing together in the same team. Two generations of West Ham academy graduates.
Noble’s status in the West Ham team is unquestionable. He may not be a superstar or even a regular starter anymore, but his influence is massive and he will play a huge part in West Ham’s success this season.