Mark Noble is the heartbeat of West Ham United Football Club.
He is the last of a dying breed – a one-club man – and perhaps one of the most underrated and undervalued players of the modern Premier League era.
Noble’s passion, drive and commitment has seen him establish himself as a vital part of West Ham’s side since making his debut as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in August 2004.
That was in the Championship, but a year later he was playing in the top-flight, with the midfielder going on to amass more than 470 senior appearances for the Irons.
It hasn’t been easy for him, however. He has had his doubters, and plenty of them, but each time the Premier League’s longest-serving player has proven them wrong.
He is a firm favourite with the Hammers faithful, but that isn’t to say some sections of supporters have questioned his importance to the side over the years.
Rewind the clock back to the 2016/17 season and his role in the team was under increased scrutiny; he was being critiqued from anyone and everyone.
Not any longer. At 32, Noble is arguably producing the best football he has ever done.
Alan Pardew, Alan Curbishley, Gianfranco Zola, Avram Grant, Sam Allardyce, Slaven Bilic, David Moyes and now Manuel Pellegrini. You’re unlikely to see another player again survive at a single club after working under eight different managers. But Noble is different to the rest.
West Ham are flying under the tutelage of former Manchester City boss Pellegrini this season. They lie fifth in the table, having lost just one of their seven league games so far, and will look to continue their impressive start to the season when they host Crystal Palace on Saturday – live on talkSPORT.
Noble’s inspirational form for the Hammers has been met with calls for him to be drafted into the England squad, but that elusive cap hasn’t come and probably never will do now.
When Noble hangs up his boots that will probably be one of the only things he’ll ponder on with real disappointment. He has yearned for that international recognition at senior level, having played at every other age group for his country.
Sam Allardyce knows all to well the qualities Noble brings to the table, with the pair enjoying a fruitful four-year spell working together in east London from 2011 to 2015.
Speaking exclusively to talkSPORT.com, Allardyce paid tribute to the popular midfielder who he says is a shining example to any young player in this country.
“Everything rubs off on Mark Noble. He’s obviously a talented footballer, but the main thing above all else is that he loves West Ham United Football Club,” he said.
“He might look like he’s 5ft 8in, but he stands at 6ft 4in every time he puts on that West Ham shirt on or comes into training, because he’s proud to play for that football club.
“He’s proven that by being one of the very few players, if not the only player, in the game today who has started at one club and finished at the same one.
“I don’t think there will ever be another player in the Premier League now who will do that again.”
He continued: “You’ve seen a lot of players in their early 20s break into the team and fall away because they think they are high and mighty and they’ve made it, so they stop working on improving their game. Mark Noble has never done that. Not once has he rested on his laurels.
“He’s always dedicated himself to playing professional football for as long as he can because he loves the game and he loves West Ham.
“However much the Premier League has changed over the years he’s kept on top of it all and still produced the goods.
“This is probably West Ham’s best and longest run in the Premier League since it has evolved and he’s been a big part of that.
“He’s obviously not the quickest and I think that can be seen and looked at by other people as a huge detriment.
“His knowledge of the game is incredible, though, so whatever he loses in terms of speed he makes up with his brain which moves him into positions other players wouldn’t have thought of getting into.
“He’s always thinking one or two steps ahead of everyone – he’s such an intelligent footballer.”
A perfect example of this is Noble’s role in the build-up to West Ham’s first goal in a 2-0 win over Manchester United last month.
With half-time approaching, Noble received the ball from Issa Diop outside the right-hand corner of the United penalty area.
To play a quick pass down the line to Andriy Yarmolenko would have been the easy option, but seeing that the Ukrainian was likely to move into an offside position he paused, feinted to turn and passed inside.
Noble went full circle, drawing several defenders towards him, before finding Felipe Anderson unmarked on his left five yards away with a simple square ball.
The Brazilian instinctively delivered a perfectly weighted straight pass which found Yarmolenko running across the face of the goal who found the bottom left-hand corner with a smart finish. Six seconds well spent from Noble, that’s for sure.
With that said if it wasn’t for another West Ham boss, Alan Curbishley, then Noble may never have been pulling the strings in midfield like he has done for so many years.
It was under Curbishley’s stewardship where Noble really started to make headway in the game, having spent time out on loan at both Hull and Ipswich during Alan Pardew’s tenure in charge.
Noble was set to go out and get more experience in the second half of the 2006/07 season, but following Pardew’s departure and Curbishley’s appointment in December 2006 that plan was scrapped.
Instead, he played his part in ‘The Great Escape’, with a 1-0 win at Manchester United on the final day securing West Ham’s Premier League status for another year.
“He’s seen off a lot of managers, that’s for sure!” Curbishley joked. “When I first arrived at West Ham, Mark had been out on loan and the plan was to send him out again to get him more game time.
“He told me he wanted to stay, though, because he felt he’d be given a chance with a new manager around and he was confident of taking his opportunity when it came around.
“It was a very similar scenario to Harry Kane at Spurs. He wasn’t getting a look in under [Andre] Villas-Boas, but then when he was sacked Tim Sherwood walked into the building and then it all changed for him, like it did with Mark.
“He was a major part of the great escape that season. The fact that he was a homegrown player gave the fans and everyone around the club a major lift as we achieved the impossible to many.”
Such is the regard Curbishley holds Noble in, he believes the Canning Town-born man is one of the best players to never be capped by England.
He explained: “When I was playing for West Ham we had Billy Bonds and most people said he was the best player to never play for England, and you’ve got to feel the same about Mark in many respects too.
“He’s been playing in the Premier League for over a decade and there’s not many English players that will do that, if ever again.
“The levels of consistency that he has produced over the years are almost unheard of. Mark is the perfect professional and the perfect midfield player in my eyes.
“The only thing he could be better at, and Mark would admit this himself, is scoring more goals. When you look at Mark Noble you’ve got the all-round midfield player.”
One of Noble’s former team-mates at West Ham, Gary O’Neil, supports Curbishley’s view, hailing his unquestionable loyalty to the club.
“There’s been certain times I’m sure when Mark has had the opportunity to leave West Ham when the club have been relegated or it hasn’t been going quite so well,” he said.
“Mark’s stock was probably higher than the club’s at those particular times, but he was obviously loyal.
“West Ham have got enough funds to replace anyone if they want too. So it’s not as if they’re playing Mark Noble on sentiment or purely because he’s a fans favourite and a nice guy.
“They’re playing him because it’s a good thing for West Ham – without him they’re a weaker team. The one thing that will disappoint him is that he never got international recognition.
“I’m sure if he was one of the young lads coming through now then he would gone on to get plenty of caps.
“Unfortunately for Mark when he broke on to the scene there were obviously the likes of Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard and Paul Scholes and plenty of other young English midfielders, so you can argue his career came at the wrong time.
“But at the same time you look at it and think to yourself, ‘how on earth has this guy never once played for his country’. It still baffles me a bit to be honest.”
Anton Ferdinand, who came through the club’s highly-regarded youth system with Noble, is another who believes he deserves international recognition.
“I still don’t think he’s appreciated enough. If he was a young player breaking through now he’d walk into the England team,” maintains Ferdinand.
“I still believe he’d do a job for England now. His distribution, awareness and technical ability is second to none. That’s what you need to be successful at international level.
“Gareth Southgate has obviously decided to go down the route with blooding youngsters and that’s fair enough.
“But the fact Mark hasn’t managed to get a single cap for England over the years is madness to be honest.
“He’s still doing the same things he was doing as a 15-year-old. He’s always one step ahead of everyone else.
“It’s no surprise to me to see him playing the way he is right now with all the experience he has under his belt and leading by example as the club captain.
“I’ve had arguments with fellow West Ham fans who tell me he shouldn’t be in the team because his legs are gone – he’s never had legs!
“His role in this team is still invaluable. The way he gets around the pitch, his distribution and his quality on the ball is second to none.
“If West Ham are playing a three-man midfield, he’s still the first name on the teamsheet – it’s as simple as that.”
There is no indication that Noble will be hanging up his boots anytime soon – you would envisage him at the very least prolonging his playing career for at least a few more years.
However, when he does call it quits, Allardyce believes West Ham should do everything in their powers to ensure Noble has a job for life at the London Stadium.
“There should always be a role for Mark Noble at West Ham United. At the very least he should have an ambassador role or a coaching role where you can work his way up from the youngsters to the first team,” he stated.
“You can’t let a man who has dedicated his whole life to West Ham like he has slip away. I think he’d make a brilliant coach, he’s all the got the attributes to be really successful in that field.
“Maybe one day he can make his way up to the first-team and be West Ham manager. That would be the fairytale ending for Mark.”
The word ‘legend’ is thrown around all too hastily in modern day football, but Noble epitomises that in every sense.
The Premier League will certainly be a lesser place without him when he does call it a day. That much is for certain.
LIVE on talkSPORT
Here’s what is coming up across the talkSPORT network this weekend…
- Birmingham vs Middlesbrough (Friday, 7:45pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Brighton vs Tottenham (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT
- Fulham vs Charlton (Saturday, 12:30pm) – talkSPORT 2
- Burnley vs Everton (Saturday, 3pm) – talkSPORT 2
- West Ham vs Crystal Palace (Saturday, 5:30pm) – talkSPORT