The former West Ham captain was Sam Allardyce’s on-field lieutenant at Bolton as well as in East London and the lessons learned from the master of avoiding the drop will be integral in West Ham’s survival this season.
When David Moyes appointed Paul Nevin and Kevin Nolan to his coaching staff on February 6th, West Ham was reeling from a difficult January that looked to continue into the new month as the Irons twice led Brighton by two goals only to hang on for a 3-3 draw.
The squad looked listless, and there was a growing fear among supporters that the players lacked the commitment and determination to keep themselves afloat in the relegation battle. Under these circumstances, the Nolan appointment was met with enthusiasm among the fans as his leadership skills and passion had made him a cult figure during his time as a player at West Ham.
According to ExWHUemployee, it didn’t take long for Nolan to make his presence felt on the under-fire squad, which was likely made easier by his relationship with Mark Noble as well as being approachable due to his proximity in age to many of the players.
As a player, Nolan was a goal-scoring midfielder with 106 goals in 559 appearances in all competitions, but it was his forthright personality and leadership skills that endeared him to supporters at Bolton, Newcastle and West Ham.
At Bolton, he was the focal point of Allardyce’s overachieving squad that finished in the top 8 of the Premier League four consecutive years in a row and even advanced to the Round of 16 in the UEFA Cup in 2007/2008. After departing Bolton, Nolan landed in Newcastle and scored 17 goals in the 2009-10 season as the club secured promotion back into the Premier League.
When Allardyce took over at West Ham in the summer of 2011 with the club relegated to the Championship, he quickly acquired his trusted lynchpin whom he has referred to as:
“the most important signing I ever made” because of his skill as a player but most importantly “what he does as a captain. He unites dressing rooms by his experience and the fact that he is a leader of players.”
When discussing the new additions to the coaching staff Mark Noble said the most important thing he learned from Nolan as a captain was the role the skipper plays as an intermediary between the players and the manager, due to the rapport that existed between Nobby and Big Sam.
This close relationship could prove to be beneficial for West Ham’s survival chances, as Nolan’s role as Allardyce’s on-field leader ensured that he absorbed many of the managerial principles of the man widely considered to have a blueprint for avoiding relegation.
In an article for The Athletic, Roshane Thomas interviewed players and coaches from Nolan’s previous managerial stops, Leyton Orient and Notts County. They noted that Nolan brought in film analysis and established a clear identity for his squad that was based around directness and set pieces, all staples of Sam Allardyce’s school of management.
Within the first few weeks of his return to West Ham, Nolan displayed his leadership skills by announcing that he had “seen enough from the lads in training” to know that the Hammers will avoid relegation. It was a bold statement considering the state of the club at the time, but it was clearly made to instill confidence in a squad that was sorely lacking it.
Beginning at Anfield, the team began to show a level of desire, character and determination that were the trademark of Nolan’s career. Moyes, Nolan and the rest of the coaching staff seemed to be reaching the players as their commitment continued into the Southampton and Arsenal matches and a renewed sense of optimism returned to East London.
As football returns, West Ham is about to enter into the nine-game stretch that will ultimately judge their season a success or a failure. With games being played in empty stadiums void of the emotion that large crowds provide, it will be important for the leadership of the club to find ways to adapt to such unusual circumstances.
Kevin Nolan has been a galvanizing force wherever he has travelled in football, and his voice will be important as the squad adjusts to the new realities of football in Project Restart. In West Ham’s fight for Premier League survival, his character, experience and football knowledge will be invaluable to both the coaching staff and players as the season enters into a defining period for the football club.