Mark Noble interview: West Ham icon on sporting director role, transfers, academy focus and Declan Rice future

New role: Club legend Mark Noble became West Ham’s sporting director in January after retiring from football last summer (West Ham)
New role: Club legend Mark Noble became West Ham’s sporting director in January after retiring from football last summer (West Ham)

Mark Noble may have retired, but West Ham’s former captain turned sporting director is not about to hang up his boots just yet.

Noble took up his new role on January 3, and has spent the first month in the job “learning the ropes”, including immersing himself in the club’s academy.

“I still put my boots on and train with the Under-18s and the U21s, because you only know first-hand what they’re like when you’re training with them,” Noble tells Standard Sport.

“It’s great, because I get to see them first-hand, and I’m probably the best person in the world for them to ask questions about what it’s like to break into the first team.”

Noble admits he also needs to maintain his football fix, after 18 years as a professional with the Hammers, before calling it a day in the summer.

“You’re bang on, of course,” he says. “It’s great for me, too, because I get to keep fit and play football.

“But if you’re asking do I miss the pressure of playing in the Premier League, I don’t really. I cared so much about how we got on, the anxiety of winning every week took over the joy of actually winning.

“Say we’d beaten Manchester United, for instance, you get in the dressing room and you’re buzzing. But within 20 minutes, that buzz has worn off and you think, ‘We’ve got to win next Saturday now’.”

Noble made 550 appearances for his boyhood club, and his remarkable service to West Ham has been recognised by the London Football Awards.

He is speaking after winning the gong for Outstanding Contribution to London Football, which he will receive at Camden’s Roundhouse on March 13.

“I’m honoured,” he says. “To be associated with some of the names that have won it in the past: Arsene Wenger. Lamps [Frank Lampard], Harry Redknapp, Les Ferdinand. These are legends of the Premier League era, they’ve done so much for the game. You don’t expect to win this kind of award. It’s really special.”

When Noble is not schooling academy players or watching the youth sides, his time is now spent fielding calls from agents or liaising with chairman David Sullivan and manager David Moyes. He speaks to both every day, bouncing ideas off Moyes and keeping Sullivan up to speed with the football side of the club.

Big ambitions: Noble would not begrudge a West Ham exit for former team-mate Declan Rice (Getty Images)
Big ambitions: Noble would not begrudge a West Ham exit for former team-mate Declan Rice (Getty Images)

In the past month, he has also reached out to other sporting directors across the Premier League and Europe in an effort to learn more about the job.

“I’ve spoken to Tiago [Pinto] at Roma and Paul Mitchell at Monaco,” he says. “There’s been a few. They’ve texted and said if you need any advice, come out and see how it’s done. In terms of being a technical director, these boys have a lot more experience than me, so why wouldn’t I want to get better?

“We all do it different ways, and I’ll do it my way.”

Noble will have a say on first-team signings, but it is the academy he keeps coming back to, and he is hopeful that two or three young players will be blooded in the first-team squad by the start of next season.

West Ham were once regarded as the best club in the country at developing players and, given the extravagant spending at rivals Chelsea and beyond, Noble believes it has never been more important for the Hammers to go back to producing young talent.

“In this role, I’ve found a real affection for working with the academy, and trying to get as many players into the first team as we can,” he says.

“The boy Chelsea signed from Benfica [Enzo Fernandez] went there for 15million euros and Chelsea had to spend £105m-plus for him. It just shows you that recruiting young players is getting harder and harder. You need a Declan Rice from the academy, because we can’t spend that amount on a player, that’s for sure.

“It’s so important to bring the young boys through, because any young English player who plays in the Premier League all of a sudden has a £30m price tag and, for us, that’s fantastic. And it’s nice to know at some point we might not have to spend loads of money if we can bring players through.”

It’s so important to bring the academy players through... we can’t spend £105m on a player, that’s for sure

Rice is comfortably West Ham’s most successful academy graduate since the era of Rio Ferdinand, Joe Cole, Michael Carrick and Co, and Moyes said at the weekend that any club wishing to sign him would not just have to break the British transfer record of £106.8m — paid by Chelsea for Fernandez — but “blow it out of the water”.

Rice has turned down several offers of a new contract from West Ham, and Noble is under no illusions that the 24-year-old could be the latest academy graduate the leave the club for big money.

“It’s just the world we live in,” he says. “We’re West Ham and these players want to go out and play Champions League football — and do you blame them?

“Dec is no different. Dec will always be hailed at West Ham as a fantastic player and such a top, top person. But I don’t think anyone begrudges him wanting to go and win things. We just hope he’ll keep performing like he has been over the last month or so.

“Wherever Declan ends up, or however much someone pays for him, whether it’s here or anywhere else, he’s worth every penny.

“He’s said openly he loves playing at West Ham, but he has got ambitions as a player to go and play in the Champions League and win trophies. I don’t think any West Han fan can actually have an agenda over that.

“Do you blame him for having really big ambitions? Of course you don’t. If he didn’t, he probably wouldn’t be as good as he is.”

The London Football Awards 2023 take place at The Roundhouse on Monday 13th March. Tickets and tables are available to be purchased here.