The 25 Best Players in the Championship – as voted for by you: Part 19 of 25

From the outside looking in, there has been a quietly efficient quality to the first half of West Ham United’s return to the Championship. Despite the presence of big names like Sam Allardyce, John Carew and Robert Green, the Hammers have merely chugged along unremarkably – winning enough games to stay second in the table for the majority of the campaign so far but not pulling away from the pack as they could have done. Like Newcastle did. There is still time for that though and Paul Binning knows just the player to help West Ham recreate the Toon Army’s title win.

Kevin Nolan (West Ham United)

There are very few players ever to have played in the Championship who have made over 300 Premier League appearances and with more than 50 top flight goals under their belt, not to mention a couple of UEFA Cup campaigns and a League Cup final. There is only one who can currently count those achievements on his CV at under 30 years of age. He is theoretically in the prime of his career, so the first question to ask when discussing Kevin Nolan’s place in this list has to be why he is even eligible?

Nolan’s move to West Ham in the summer was a surprise and one which instantly made the Hammers firmer favourites for the title with many, but it was not totally without precedent. Two seasons ago, Nolan decided to trade the captaincy at Bolton Wanderers for the challenge of keeping Newcastle United in the top flight. That mission, of course, ended disastrously and following the worst six months of his career, Nolan felt enough of an obligation to stay and restore the Geordie giants to what they feel is their rightful place at the top table. He achieved it in spectacular fashion, with 18 goals forming the backbone of a title-winning campaign.

A largely successful return season, including a legendary hat-trick in the Tyne-Wear derby, suggested Nolan was back in the elite for good. But when his former Bolton manager Sam Allardyce came calling, Nolan deserted what appeared at the time to be a sinking ship on Tyneside and headed for the capital with the task clear — to ensure the side from Upton Park were only blowing bubbles in the second tier for one season.

So why drop down again? Does Nolan just enjoy scoring lots of goals? Does he relish the easier games at this level? While some would say Nolan lacks ambition, his Newcastle move must have been made with the assumption that relegation would be avoided and with an instinct that he was progressing from his long stint at the Reebok where Bolton were perennial over-achievers. Meanwhile West Ham, with Big Sam in charge, are ‘the big club’ of England’s second division at present and having seen what Nolan did two years ago, clearly view his expensive five-year contract as a gamble worth taking.

Nolan obviously shares this view. For him, this campaign is another chance to show a gap still exists between the two divisions. This tall, strong, hard-working midfielder drifts easily just behind the forwards and is always a goalscoring threat. Whether he’s striding forward and meeting a cross on the volley or curling in a loose ball on one of his gut-busting runs from the middle of the park, Nolan is one of those players who can single-handedly pick a team up and drive them forward in times of struggles. His goals often arrive almost unexpectedly, given how adeptly he picks the perfect moments to time his runs and arrives in the danger area without a defender in sight.

His style and shape suggest a particular combative type of footballer but while most would call Nolan a central midfielder, he tends to be more flexible and although lacking the creativity of a typical number ten, has played in the hole successfully throughout his career. What he lacks in dexterity, he makes up for in sheer bloody-mindedness and goals — with 35 goals in the past two and a half seasons putting his strike rate up there among the best forwards.

This is critical for a manager as it means that switching between 4-4-2 at home where you can afford a more expansive style and 4-5-1 for the tougher matches away from home, as many like to do, is made simple by having a player who will ensure a lone forward doesn’t get isolated. Despite Nolan’s uncharacteristically inconsistent start to the season, perhaps unsettled by the brief presence of Scott Parker, this adaptability will become crucial during the promotion run-in.

Nolan’s considerable leadership skills will also have attracted Allardyce. He inspired Bolton to their best ever finishes in the Premier League and a League Cup final before offering Newcastle that strength in the centre of the pitch they were woefully missing as they slumped from the top flight. During their single season flirtation with the Football League, Nolan was often the voice alongside manager Chris Hughton’s insistence that there was still hard work to be done. Even as the Toon stretched well clear of the pack, Nolan never allowed his peers to relax.

Similarly, his comments on joining the Hammers pulled no punches and made it instantly clear to his colleagues that shirking would not be accepted. By making the statement that “the least we should accept is promotion… anything else will be an unmitigated disaster”, he was sending a message to his highly-paid and potentially lackadaisical team-mates that they were now the side others would target and that they would have to work hard every single week to ensure a successful campaign in the Championship.

Nolan thrives in that kind of environment. The chance of an England call-up may have passed him by, but he will undoubtedly want to see out his career where he feels he belongs and another successful goalscoring season is looming for a player who continues to impress at every level.

Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.


  1. Pete
    December 19, 2011

    I can only think that the person who wrote this hasn’t watched Nolan this season. How he gets in to a top 25 is beyond me and I can think of at least five West Ham players alone who are more worthy of including in this list.

    Describing Nolan as hard working makes everything that follows irrelevant. The author clearly is writing this on Nolan’s reputation not on his performances this season.

    • theseventytwo
      December 19, 2011

      As already replied to on Twitter, Nolan was one of the few players who won the majority of his votes from opposition fans. That’s part of what this series is about – demonstrating how difficult it is to judge players that nobody sees week in week out. It’s definitely a selection based on past performances from the feedback given so far by West Ham fans.

  2. Rexhammee
    December 19, 2011

    I agree with Pete. You have obviously not watched West Ham at all this season. I was enjoying Reading this till you said that Nolan was a hard worker. He might have been in the past, but it is as if we play with 10 men.

    It is really getting on my nerves when he keep on getting Into the team of week…what an insult to our other player that are running themselves into the ground for the club, whilst Nolan stands there and shouts a lot.

    If Nolan is 19th in your list then you must have atleast 4 more West Ham players left to put in your list..Noble, Tomkins, Taylor, Cole, Faye and even Faubert have been better in my eyes. You could also add Baldock aswell.

    I have moaned a lot about Nolan on my blog, and I am still waiting see that player that people like yourself sees.

  3. cb
    December 19, 2011

    Rexhamm you and most other west ham fans seem to be expecting Nolan to be an all action midfielder that will dominate games like Parker used to

    he’s not that kind of player, he never has been and he never will be

    he’s a decent central midfielder who pops up and scores way more than his fair share of goals, and at the same time is a great leader

    He’s still that player this season

    • Jimbo
      December 19, 2011

      CB, whilst you’re correct, Nolan has never been an ‘all action’ type midfielder, his performance thus far for West Ham have largely been disappointing. He seems off the pace, games pass him by, he’s slow…… I want him to do well for us, and in his defence, he has scored a few goals so far, also, as mentioned, he leadership skills are clear to see.

      For £4m, and £60k p/w (depending on what you have read), i think West Ham fans expected a bit more.

  4. Rexhammer
    December 19, 2011

    That’s right Jimbo. For my blog I have to keep up to date with prety much everything… I watch Nolan closley and he doesn’t do anything but shout a lot and pop up once every so often and score a goal. I think his captiancy contributes a lit off and on the pitch, but for the amount of money he earns he could put in a bit more legwork and that would get fans like myself off his back.

    I also responded to this post because the OP said that he is a hard worker, but I think I put In more legwork than he does when I go and do the shopping.

    I have said many times that it feels like we are playing with 10 men and how do we know that we wouldn’t win games easier if we replaced Nolan with a creative midfielder? That would also give Noble a bit more leeway, what he is doing now is Nolans legwork for him aswell

    • Jimbo
      December 19, 2011

      In all honesty Rex, i’m not a fan of Noble’s either (makes me sound like i dont like any of our players).

      I would certainly never get on Nolan’s back, like some seem to, and to be honest, the reaction to his MOM on Saturday was downright embarrassing.

      I suppose ultimately, if he keeps on like he is (Nolan), he’ll be hitting 15 goals or so for the season, which is certainly a fair return.

      • RexHammer
        December 20, 2011

        I wasn’t much of a fan of Noble either, but he has performed brilliantly this season for us and I think he has played a vital role to get us where we are. I might sound like I dislike Nolan, but I don’t. I just say things how i see it. I just see a player that would be 10 times better if he put a bit more effort in. If he can score 6 goals in 22 matches by walking around….how many will he score of he put in a bit more of a shift each match?

        It just winds me up when fans have a go at the likes of Luis Boa Morte who gave 110% in every match, but give credit to Nolan who seems to be a ghost 99% of every match, but uses his experience to get into the right places at the right times to score a good amount of goals.

        His goals will without a doubt be a huge difference on our promotion chances and maybe it is Sam’s style of football that doesn’t allow Nolan to play to his strengths. I mean even Nolan has admitted on occasions that he is not happy with his own performances. I do believe that he will get better as the season goes on though. COYI!


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