Mark Noble has 12 months remaining at West Ham before the captain hangs up his playing boots, and the skipper is thrilled to have a European campaign to depart with.
Noble’s only previous experience of European football came in the UEFA Europa League qualifying rounds between 2016 and 2017.
On both occasions, the Hammers fell to defeat to Romanian outfit Astra Giurgiu. West Ham supporters will be relieved to hear that Astra were relegated from the top tier this season and fell to defeat in the Romanian FA Cup final last weekend, so the Hammers are safe from their European nemesis next season.
Not that it would concern Noble if Astra were in the Europa League, with the captain thrilled with the achievement of qualifying for the group stages next season.
“It’s exciting, obviously,” Noble told West Ham TV. “We’ve had an incredible season and I’m looking forward to it.”
Asked what West Ham’s achievement of finishing above big-spending London rivals Arsenal and Tottenham was down to, Noble said: “With the players we’ve got, team spirit goes a long way in football and I’ve always said that.
“When you bring the likes of big Tom [Soucek] in, Vlad [Coufal], Jarrod [Bowen], Saïd [Benrahma], everyone has stuck together.
“Jesse [Lingard] has come in on loan and big Daws [Craig Dawson] has come in and it’s just gelled. It just shows you that, if you work as a team and as a collective, you can really do well.”
Noble added: “We’ve got some top players but they all work for each other.
“You saw that on Sunday, [against Southampton] when we didn’t start so well and the players were a bit nervous because the fans were back, but once got that first goal we settled down and controlled it from there.”
The captain singled out the man who has is destined to replace him as club skipper, Declan Rice, for particular praise after the vice-captain capped a fine Hammers season off with the final goal of the campaign.
“As soon as I saw him in the position he was in, with the pace and legs he has got and his finishing in training, I knew he was going to score,” he said.
“I’m absolutely buzzing for him. He deserves it, he’s been fantastic this year and it’ll give him massive confidence going into the Euros.”
Noble has been reduced to a bit-part player for most of this season, slotting in when Rice was injured or featuring from the off in the odd game during the busier times of the season. Not that the veteran has any issue with the game time he has been given.
“It’s been really nice to sit up there and watch the boys play and play when I’ve needed to play like Wolves away and Leicester at home, when we got some fantastic results,” he said.
“I think that’ll be my role again next year and with a European tour it’ll be fantastic for us and I’m really excited. We’re obviously going to need some more players because of the amount of games we’re going to have, but the boys have done a fantastic job.”
Europa League will certainly bring extra challenges that West Ham are not used to. The Hammers will have a minimum of six extra games to fit into their schedule between September and December as well as the travel time.
However, all at the club including Noble are looking forward to a European tour and will be aiming to stretch it into 2022 and the knockout rounds.
“You’ve seen what Europa League football does for teams and it really does make it hard for you, and that’s why you need a squad,” he added.
“Getting back at four o’clock on a Friday morning and playing on a Sunday, then playing another cup game in midweek is tough, but we’re looking forward to it.”
Not that Noble is complaining, with just 12 months left at the club the captain is intent on enjoying his first full European adventure and aims to leave the club in an even better position this time next year.
“Another season like this would be phenomenal,” he said. “We’ve worked hard this season and we’re going to try and enjoy it”
Source by Football London