Mark Noble’s tutor at Harvard University will perhaps, if she reads the introduction to his autobiography, be more impressed with the financial enterprise than the dubious ethics of an earlier money-making deal.
“We were always trying our luck,” he writes in his book, Boleyn Boy. “West Ham had no idea that they were responsible for our pocket money. My mate had a girlfriend who worked in one of the kiosks at Upton Park.
“The deal was incredible. We gave her £5 for a burger and a Coke and she gave us £20 back in change, which might explain why West Ham never seemed to have enough money to buy new players.”
Things have changed a good deal since those days for that cheeky youngster from Canning Town who will, on January 2, begin his new job as West Ham’s sporting director.
The fans have been used to seeing their East End hero giving no less than everything in every one of the 550 senior games he played for his beloved club.
The tears when he retired at the end of last season have long since dried and — after a few months off to spend time with his family — he is ready to return for what he calls “this next chapter in my life.”
The effervescence of Noble’s personality shines through in his book, but there is also the desolation of relegation which, as he looks forward to the first day in his office at the club’s training ground, has more relevance following the team’s recent dismal run.
As he did on some dark days as a player, though, Noble will front up and meet the challenge head on.
“I’m ready,” he says. “Obviously, I’m going to learn on the job, but I know the club probably better than anyone. It’s also something I had been thinking about doing for some time and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity.
“I studied at Harvard on a business, entertainment, media and sports course earlier this year. My tutor there, Anita Elberse, is the Professor of Administration and has had some top people from around the world on the course.
“People from different industries have taken part: actors, sports stars, CEOs of social media companies. It was an absolute eye-opener to the way these people think.
“They sent me 15 case studies about a month before I went on subjects as varied as Paris Saint-Germain, Facebook, basketball star LeBron James, unique digital identifiers called NFT’s and Jay-Z, the rapper. It’s all about what the course calls ‘The Blockbuster’ model of Go Big or Go Home.
“In my group there was Linda Henry, the wife of John, whose Fenway Sports Group owns Liverpool, and we spoke at length about the Premier League. She is the CEO of Boston Globe Media. It was a real learning curve about the way executives of big companies do things. Football is such a global brand and you have to take advantage of that.”
Noble’s remit will become clearer over time, but he says he is ready for hard choices. “There will be difficult decisions at times and now I’ll be thinking about contracts and recruitment, which is an entirely different kettle of fish, but after a long playing career, this is what I want to do,” he says. “When I start, the transfer window will be open and, for me, it will be a case of looking, listening and learning how it works.
“I’ll speak to players who we are considering bringing in and, most importantly, I’ll be honest when giving an opinion on how we should do things. I will also have an impact on the academy, because I’ve come through that system, and now my son, Lenny, is there.
“I won’t be going in with all guns blazing, because I see this as a long-term project where I can make this position my own and set out an ethos and structure for this club.”
Noble is also well aware of the urgent need for David Moyes’s team to climb clear of relegation worries when action resumes in late December.
“You’re going to have bad runs, but then it’s a case of trying to stick together and getting through it as one,” he says. “You need to support the owners and the manager, but always the club has to come first. I’ve had a great relationship with the manager, so that isn’t a problem. He is incredibly proud of the job he’s done at West Ham and determined to continue that.”
It will be very different from his life at West Ham over the past two decades, but he says: “I feel energised and I’m ready for this next challenge in my life. Do I miss playing or the pressure of having to win? No. I miss football, though, the training, feeling fit.
“I won’t be out on the training field now. I will be looking at the business side of things, the future and how we improve on the pitch and off it, become a bigger global brand. That won’t happen overnight. You go through cycles, but if you have a structure, you have a much better chance of coming out of the downturns when they happen and I always said this was going to be a transitional season.
“I’m hoping we can ride out the tough period, which I think we will, and then look forward to next season. It’s a new job, but the players know how honest I was back then and I’m not changing any time soon.”
Mark Noble’s autobiography Boleyn Boy (HarperNonFiction, £22) is out now.