John Steinbeck, in 1937, told the tale of George Milton & Lennie Small who searched for toil in the days of the Great Depression in the United States. Theirs was a friendship that nurtured a brotherhood and undying loyalty to each other until the day came where one would meet his fate for deadly transgressions but lacking intent of purpose.
Mark Noble has led our club with grace, desire and passion…and what he lacked in pace and raw talent, he has overcome and surpassed with industry and dedication. West Ham were in the great depression that had taken hold since leaving Upton Park and even Noble was caught within its gravitational pull…like a speck of wandering dust attracted to a tornado of objection, protest and strife.
He had suffered with poor form as did many of the team in the first season at the London Stadium. The growing unease and the closer scrutiny did nothing to relieve tensions between much of the fanbase, those in Twitter-ville…even up and down the back stairs and within the board room. The team was suffering, the manager was floundering and performances were dire, lacking grit and spirit…confidence was at an all-time low.
Obviously feeling the strain of expectation and the disappointment of personal achievement, Noble succumbed to online pressure by making a television interview to hit back at dissenting voices. Those who became bewildered, dejected and often infuriated by the individual and team performances that attracted closer inspection and deeper interrogation. Unfortunately it received a mixed reaction from those who would lend an ear.
In his interview with Sky Sports he said, “If I am really honest, a lot of people who now go to football don’t really understand the game” This may be true to some degree, however there are an overwhelming number of people who do understand the game and can easily spot below par performances regardless of whatever their personal experience has been playing the game.
He was acknowledging the particularly tough time he and the rest of the team were having, and whilst there were many calls for him to be dropped from the first team, Slaven Bilic kept the faith with his club captain. There would be a good argument for both directions but the fact remains that the team as a whole were not playing to the standards the fans would have wanted, nor did the fans witness players with any confidence and many lacked industry to counteract any dip in form.
Telling was the appointment of Moyes who had obviously done his due diligence prior to accepting the challenge. He came in with a game plan and a whirlwind will to shake things up and solve a glaring problem in midfield that had repeatedly failed to protect the defence and goalkeeping deficiencies.
To his great credit, Noble did not wobble when he was dropped from the starting line up in the first few Moyes outings. It would have been a simple task to bow his head in shame and welcome sympathy from those who shared his pain…but he worked tirelessly on the training ground and within the structure of the squad to regain favour and be given the opportunity to prove himself once more.
It would have been nobler in the mind to think that he had reached his point of no return, that his loyal friends with lesser footballing aptitudes had shot their final miss and the misplaced frolics with lady luck and league position bombshells had given rise to hostile advances and pitch forked masses.
When he made a starting position in midfield on his return under Moyes, he was the only player who showed any leadership qualities and his performance was second to none. His great escape from the amassed hoards levitated him back to his rightful place…on the throne, a man to lead and for others to follow.
Under Slaven Bilic, Noble had been reduced to mouse like performances where other men played but he was not alone. Others had fallen, many had become lost in the somber atmosphere and most had apparently lost the faith in their manager and became ghosts of their former selves, lost souls in empty vessels.
Kouyate had slumped in the first season at the London Stadium…and continued to do so in the second. Obiang showed some signs of life to pull the team together, but his partnership with Kouyate usually ended in despair for the partnership, the team and the long suffering support.
Whilst Noble had become Steinbeck’s George, Kouyate was soon becoming Lennie and our crowd was morphing into a Curley character who was ready to point, poke and scrutinise with aggressive intent.
Noble had returned to be the great leader in the centre of the park, a notable conductor to guide the orchestra in harmonious tune but Kouyate was failing to raise his game and had seemingly disappeared from the position he once held two seasons before. He had made some glaring errors and criminal advances which had broken the neck of many a fan’s faith. He had run away from his task…only Noble could chase him down to either put him out of his misery to regain some kind of order, some kind of justice or fashion a revival that would keep the lynch mob at bay.
However, in the last few games Moyes has played Kouyate in a more advancing role which has relieved him of the more defensive responsibilities and Noble has been right there alongside him, covering, encouraging and guiding.
If there was ever a player that had lost his way but needed to find the right path back home, then Kouyate was surely that man. This box to box player had succumbed to the club malaise, had been caught up in the troubles of fellow players but Noble was there to lend an arm to guide him back to where he needed to be. The two wandering ranchers, who became tumbleweed in the dusty void have eventually managed to take root and may yet flourish into a formidable partnership for the rest of the season. They had both fallen as noble mice but arose as men.