Kevin Nolan has always remained a player that somewhat polarizes opinions amongst both neutrals and fans of his own clubs alike. On one hand, you have the perception of a man who seems too eager to believe his own hype; a limelight hogger who’s penchant for the odd goal here and there covers up the wider failings of his game. On the other, you have a footballer that bestows an undeniable set of qualities that have lasted the test of time for whichever club he’s played for.
And it feels as if Nolan’s time at West Ham United so far has been a good reference point for the latter half of the ex-Bolton’s man career. Despite firing in 12 goals to fuel the Hammers’ promotion push last season, he is not necessarily the revered figure that some might expect. But the fact remains, regardless of how he scored them and how much he contributed to the side, he did score those 12 goals.
Again, his three Premier League goals so far this term, may not have come against a backdrop of exquisite midfield play. But it doesn’t matter. As long as he remains in the right place at the right time for West Ham, Nolan will remain an important player in this team and people should make no mistake in acknowledging him as a core asset in Premier League survival.
Kevin Nolan had again reached something of a crossroads in his career during the early summer of 2011. His exit from Newcastle United surprised some after a league campaign in which he notched up 12 goals came as something of a surprise to some. So when it was announced he was dropping down a division to head to East London, many were left scratching their heads at why Nolan would possibly sacrifice top-flight football, in which he’d demonstrated his value successfully, to drop down to the Championship.
Some critics were scathing of the Liverpool-born midfielders decision and more than a few shots were aimed at Nolan’s seeming motivations for moving down south to the join West Ham. With a five-year-contract on the table and a 29th birthday rapidly approaching, it doesn’t take an economics degree to ascertain the financial merits of his move to the Hammers. But what people weren’t quite as eager to contemplate, were any footballing motivations behind the deal.
Of course, Nolan was set to do well from a personal stand point from his move to Upton Park. But Sam Allardyce, despite the views of a minority to the contrary at times last season, is no mug. Yes, West Ham’s promotion push went straight down to the wire, but the former Bolton and Newcastle manager knew exactly what Nolan could bring to the table and the proof was ultimately in the pudding. His tally of 12 Championship goals was exceeded only by that of frontman Carlton Cole’s 14 in a West Ham shirt. Likewise, his five league assists was third behind only Mark Noble and Matt Taylor on the team’s stats sheets. But still, Nolan feels like something of an undervalued quality.
Three was a school of thought that Nolan simply wasn’t contributing enough around the rest of the pitch or cultivating enough of a passing game in the middle of the park. And in some respects, that wasn’t too far from the truth. Nolan isn’t the player that he was perhaps in his early days at Bolton Wanderers and he isn’t going to dictate the tempo of matches any time soon. But that isn’t where his strengths lie.
Again, some thought that if the Magpies were so eager to let him go, he can’t be worth the big contract or the hassle after all. But as opposed to bashing the Nolan round the head with Newcastle’s reluctance to hand him a new contract, the power of hindsight does a lot to explain why. The emergence of Yohan Cabaye and the movement to a more fluid style of play rendered Nolan’s skillset less important to the balance of their play. It didn’t mean that he ceased to function as a quality attacking midfielder.
Some will of course dispute the labeling Nolan of as a quality player in his position, but in terms of what he does for West Ham, his skillset is of genuine and relevant value. As long as Sam Allardyce continues to utilize the set-up that got the Hammers promoted and the one that has helped them achieve such a solid start to their Premier League season, Nolan will be at the forefront of that.
The perception of Allardyce’s style of football is certainly over exaggerated within large parts of the media, but for now, there does remain a very prevalent element of pragmatism to West Ham’s way of playing. If he looks to develop that slightly, then Nolan’s place in the team will of course come under review.
But for now, it doesn’t matter if he doesn’t make 20 runs a game into the box anymore. As long as he keeps putting the ball in the back of the net when he does pick his time to dart in, that’s simply all that matters. If he keeps hustling, harrying and picking up the loose balls, he doesn’t have to worry about manipulating the pace of the match.
He isn’t without faults and whether he can sustainably score goals for the remainder of his lucrative contract, it remains to be seen. But what are the short-term aspirations of this West Ham side? Besides the core aim of avoiding relegation, there is a silent confidence that the team can and should be doing more than just the bare minimum. But they’d do extremely well to match the 12th placed finish that Newcastle United attained on their first season back in the Premier League after a one-year Championship hiatus. Their top goal scorer in the league that term? You guessed it. Kevin Nolan.
Nolan isn’t bulletproof and unless he continues to fire the goals in at Upton Park, the less sharper ends of his game are always likely to come in for scrutiny. But until then, the Scouser should be cut a bit of slack. Because with three league goals to his name already, it’d take a brave man to bet against him getting double figures yet again, this season.
How do you rate Kevin Nolan’s performances in a West Ham shirt? How many goals do you think he has in the tank this year? Let me know what you think on Twitter: follow @samuel_antrobus and bat me your views.