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Kevin Nolan is one of those players who has never fully convinced the fans but has become a mainstay of Sam Allardyce teams for a number of years, since he first emerged at Bolton Wanderers. His arrival in the Bolton first team coincided with Allardyce's reign commencing, and since then he has taken him to both Newcastle United and then on to West Ham United. Despite the goals he scores, regularly for a midfielder, the fans never take to him.
Probably that is a lot to do with his build, he is regularly ridiculed as being fat and slow, even while still in his 20s. To be fair, once Allardyce left Bolton, he did begin to add a few pounds in extra timber, which slowed him down, so the stick he takes has basis in fact. While he has slimmed down, he has slowed down even more in recent years.
What Nolan does add to a team is strength to bully most players, with the weight he carries being put to good use. He also has good movement in the box to get into position to score the goals he does, one of those players that anticipates where the ball will break rather than reacting to where it is going. Nolan also has a very good technique, he is a lovely clean striker of the ball, which is why he can control the volleys he regularly scores from.
He is also good in the air, both defensively and in the final third, which is particularly useful at set pieces. That probably partly explains Sam Allardyce's love for him, as he does very much emphasis the importance of set pieces in the modern game. The problem is that outside of the box Nolan offers little to a team now, his legs are, as we say, gone.
At one time he provided energy and drive on the pitch, these days there is little left of that. Now it is all about leadership and organisation, as a captain who does try and lead by example and who looks to keep others on their toes. As a player though, it is all about what he does in both boxes, as managers have to weigh up whether what he brings there is enough to make up for his shortcomings in the build up play or when the opponent has the ball.
Nolan lacks the mobility to get around the pitch, not just in terms of speed, but also in the level of fitness he has. He does put in 100%, but he is just not able to get around the pitch like he could before, and he was never the most mobile player anyway. Unfortunately his passing range is not particularly good, despite the clean technique he displays on his shots, though that may be more down to a lack of vision than him lacking the ability to play the pass.
His fiery nature can also be a problem, he does tend to collect yellow cards, 115 in his career to date, which often leads to suspensions. That is not ideal in a captain, who needs to be there on the pitch as often as possible, plus you do not want your captain running the risk of a second yellow when disputing a decision with the referee. With the lack of mobility, the risk of cards increases, as the chances of a late tackle grow, which is never a good thing for an older player.
Nowadays Kevin Nolan is more highly valued for what he does for the club as a leader, than his actual playing contribution. While the goals are still valuable, they are coming with less regularity now, which is even more worrying with him playing further forward than he did in the past. For me, I think it is time for the Hammers to move on from Nolan, he offers little to them as anything more than someone for Andy Carroll to hold up the ball for.
With his legs failing him, even that aspect of his game has weakened to the point it is no longer enough to deserve a place in a Premier League team. While his leadership is still an asset, it is not enough of one to offset the deficiencies in his game.
Written by Tris Burke
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