Mark Noble may be the youngest regular in the West Ham United first team but he believes it will not be a long before one or two of the club's talented teens take that mantle.
The midfielder has been impressed in recent weeks with the likes of James Tomkins, Jack Collison and Freddie Sears. All three have shown up well while training and travelling with the senior squad. It is easy to forget that Noble himself is only 20 such is the maturity of his displays this season while Alan Curbishley has also shown faith in Anton Ferdinand, 23 yesterday, and Jonathan Spector who only turns 22 with the visit of Chelsea on 1 March.
With Carlton Cole and Dean Ashton still only 24 themselves, there is a youthful feel to the matchday 16, but Noble believes reserve-team captain Collison will soon get the chance to add to his first-team experience. "He is a fantastic player and a really nice kid as well. He handles himself well, gets on with everyone and is well liked. He is great in training every day with us, he is definitely one for the future."
Collison, 19, made his senior debut away to Arsenal on New Year's Day, a match when central defender Tomkins, 18, also figured in the matchday 16 for the first time. "I rate Tomks highly," added Noble, who said it was harder for defenders to come through given the fact some of the best attacking players in the world are on view in the Premier League. That said, he has faith in his young colleague. "He is a clever centre-back who can pass, who can head - who can do everything."
The duo have been regulars around the first team since the turn of the year and Noble is convinced both will blossom when the time is right. He explained: "I am sure it is just a case of putting them in. As with me, you get chucked in and the adrenalin and the nerves kick in. You do things you don't expect you can do. They are just waiting for their chances and I am sure they are both going to be fantastic for this club in the future."
Another name on the horizon is prolific scorer Sears - who has 20 goals in 16 games for the U18s this season and has begun to establish himself alongside Tomkins at England Under-19 level. Noble described getting a recent glimpse of the 18-year-old forward in action during a training ground match. "All the first team was watching and he was head and shoulders above the rest. He is quick, he can finish and he has got a little bit of arrogance about him as well. We have got some bright youngsters coming through."