It feels strange writing about this, but it could potentially become a problem at West Ham in the coming years.
While we’ve consistently bemoaned the lack of goalscoring strikers, our leaky defence, the club signing injury-prone players and the club buying semi-retired has-beens, the question of captaincy has never been an issue. Have a think back and it’s difficult to name a single club captain who simply wasn’t up to the job. They’ve all been good in their own right and have been able to guide the team both through good and bad times pretty well.
In my lifetime, we’ve had Alvin Martin, Ian Bishop, Julian Dicks, Steve Potts, Steve Lomas, Paolo Di Canio, Joe Cole, Christian Dailly, Nigel Reo-Coker, Lucas Neil, Matthew Upson, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble all being honoured with the armband, not to mention the countless deputies, too.
Think back when Lucas Neil and Matthew Upson both had injury lay-offs, it was Scott Parker who was called upon to take the armband and the lead the team both on and off the pitch. It’s crazy to think that Parker was never officially named club captain during his time in claret and blue, but the way in which he took that role onboard when called upon makes you automatically think that he had been.
However, now, with Mark Noble edging ever closer to not being able to keep up with the full pace of the Premier League, it has become very clear that the rest of Manuel Pellegrini’s squad lacks a deputy, another true leader.
In the opening two Premier League games of this season, Pellegrini handed the armband to two different long-serving squad members in Noble’s absence. Aaron Cresswell was the man called upon against Manchester City and then Angelo Ogbonna was chosen for the trip to Brighton. Neither particularly stand out as leadership material, and neither could help lead their teammates to anything close to a good performance, barring the opening 20 minutes against City perhaps.
But who else could Pellegrini turn to? Pablo Zabaleta would be the obvious choice, but he’s not getting much game time this season as he enters the final season of his fantastic career. What about Lukasz Fabianski, who has the experience and pedigree? Perhaps the boss doesn’t like the idea of a keeper having the armband. There’s always Fabian Balbuena, whose nickname ‘The General’ would make you assume he’s leadership material, while Winston Reid is another you would be happy to call upon, but he’s being missing for almost two years.
The rest of the squad is mostly made up of young, inexperienced players, new signings and team members who don’t possess the necessary qualities to be given such a huge responsibility.
But is it a problem in today’s game? Some will argue that the modern game relies less and less on a captain, although it’s different when playing the best mobile games, and is more suited to a team coming together as one on the pitch and leading each other equally. Everyone should be taking responsibility, right? Everyone should be accountable.
I don’t see it like that. I think, especially at a club like West Ham, there should be a designated club captain, and that man should be fully aware of what it means to wear the shirt and represent the club, 24/7.
That’s why Mark Noble makes a good captain, because he’s been at the club his entire life, supports the club and would literally die for the colours. Mark Noble is West Ham. West Ham is Mark Noble.
Scott Parker was similar, albeit not an official captain. He came in a different mould to Noble, in that he wasn’t all of the above, but he was the type of player who could take a game by the scruff of the neck and inspire his teammates to perform at the same level he did. That’s a leader. Hard work, passion, respect. Just look at how he did the team talk at West Brom while 3-0 down back in 2011, inspiring the team to come out in the second half and draw 3-3.
Before them, Julian Dicks possessed all of the above, while Paolo Di Canio’s character was absolutely perfect for it.
A club captain must not just have passion, hard work and the respect of his peers, but he must also be a man younger players can look up to. All of our past captains have been just that. But we don’t have many of those in our squad just yet.
With Mark Noble returning to action last weekend and immediately leading the side to a first win of the season, this is perhaps not a huge problem right now. But it will be in a year or two. While our new transfer strategy of bringing in young players is great, there needs to be an element of experience and leadership in the squad too.
Maybe one of the current squad has it and we haven’t seen it yet? Fingers crossed.