Roy Hodgson's squad selection for England's friendly against Denmark tomorrow certainly raised a few eyebrows. Particularly in the midfield department, where there maybe a few players on the periphery wondering what more they have to do to get noticed - not least of all, former England U21 Captain, Mark Noble.
West Ham fans over the last decade or so, have watched as their acclaimed youth system has produced Premiership greats the likes of John Terry, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand. The caveat with developing players of that calibre is that their talent is such that Upton Park essentially became nothing more than a stepping stone for upcoming English talent.
With that, you might argue that Hammers fans pining for local lad Mark Noble to be given a shot in the England senior squad is a bit foolhardy. But Noble, at 26, isn't likely to reach the peaks of Premiership superstardom that some of his academy alumni have before him. However, he is quietly going about having an excellent season and his stats show that he can certainly compete with some of the big names in that midfield department who may already be thinking about whether they want an aisle or window seat on the plane to Brazil.
If we are looking at how best to maximise Steven Gerrard's output, then it might be beneficial to look at the way Liverpool have supported him, via the excellent screening service that Lucas Lieva offers, coupled with the energy and drive of Jordan Henderson. The Brazilian is exceptional at breaking up play, and so his average tackles and interceptions per game are perhaps the areas to consider. The choice of Michael Carrick (another West Ham graduate) is a sound one, as (according the Whoscored.com) he has intercepted the ball 15 more times in as many games as Lucas. But he is lacking in the tackling department, averaging 2.1 per game to Lucas' 3.9. Noble intercepts opposition passes far less than Carrick, although still more than any of the midfielders selected, and his average tackle rate of 2.8 is closest to Lucas', alongside fellow hidden gem, Gareth Barry.
The much maligned Tom Cleverley is behind Noble in both of these departments but his pass success rate hovers around the 90% mark compared to Noble's 83%. However, the key to the West Ham midfielders' productivity this season has been both his defensive capabilities and his contribution to the team moving forward, offering far more than your Carricks and Cleverleys in creating opportunities for teammates to shoot at goal.
Jack Wilshere, who admittedly hasn't had the best of seasons, isn't required to be as defensively aware as Noble, and has consequently produced more goals and assists, but still has managed fewer key passes. Given the nature of Arsenal's play, you'd have thought creating shooting chances for teammates is practiced blindfolded, perhaps the quality of the rest of the team ensures that responsibility is more evenly shared. Henderson, similarly to Wilshere, provides less defensive assuredness and more offensively, but Noble surprises again, making more successful dribbles per game. With the former Sunderland player now making a name for himself as a key component of the link up play in Liverpool's dynamic attacking system, this suggests that Noble can offer something similar if required for England too, given the chance.
Elder chieftain Frank Lampard's selection is presumably on the merit of experience, but surely that's only valuable if there is a portfolio of international successes, rather than failures, to be found in those 103 caps? As the 'Golden Generation' fades is it wise to save a spot for a player who, despite being a legend at club level, isn't playing all that regularly and is one half of the midfield puzzle that was never solved?
The problem then, is that despite it being clear that Noble is a better-rounded midfielder than he gets credit for, without perhaps excelling specifically in one of these departments - he's effectively played himself into Hodgson's blind spot, in-between positions.
On the other hand, could it be that similarly to Tom Huddlestone, they are indistinguishable amongst a crowd littered with more 'high profile' prospects at bigger, shinier clubs? Either way, it seems this product of 'The Academy' might not get the chance to make his mark on the big stage like the generation before him did.