- Position: Centre-forward;
- Born: Kirkby, February 1982 (age 32);
- Club: Southampton (2009-present);
- Former: Bristol Rovers (2006-2009), Rochdale (2005-2006), Stockport County (2002-2005), Macclesfield Town (2001-2002), Blackpool (1998-2000);
- International: England (4 caps, 2 goals),
- 2014 Premier League Statistics: 31(6) games, 13 goals, 10 assists,
- Estimated Value: £4.4m
Few journeys to this summer’s World Cup can be considered as remarkable as that of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, whom Roy Hodgson selected off the back of a season in which the forward scored thirteen goals and made ten assists as the Saints secured an eleven-year best 8th place. The Kirkby-born forward was released by his hometown Club at the age of fifteen but has since scored goals in every division of the Football League en-route to the Premier League and, in the coming, to Brazil. On Thursday night, the forward is the subject of reputable speculation linking him to the side he has long-supported – yet another step in an increasingly extraordinary career appears to be within reach and Lambert’s career progression thus far suggests that he could well take the demands of a move to Liverpool within his stride.
Rickie Lambert was living the early years of a childhood dream between the ages of ten and fifteen until, in 1997, he was informed by Academy Director Steve Heighway that his Liverpool adventure was over – this just a year prior to the new Academy opening in Lambert’s home town. After trialling with nearby Marine, Lambert eventually moved north to Blackpool in time for the beginning of their 1998-99 season – he made his debut a year later, home to Wrexham, but, having made just three appearances in over two years, was released by former-Red Steve McMahon. Without a Club for four months, a Merseyside beetroot supplier would be his next employer before Macclesfield Town came calling in March 2001 – Lambert failed to score in nine Third Division appearances but, thirteen months later, would be subject of a record £300,000 transfer to Stockport County, having scored 10 goals in forty games for the Silkmen. Lambert initially struggled at Edgeley Park, scoring just twice during his first season, but he was back on form for 2003-04, scoring 13 in forty-five. Having scored just 4 the following season, the forward left the struggling Hatters in February 2005 in order to support Rochdale’s promotion push – despite his scoring record of better than 1 in three, they finished 6 points shy of the League Two Playoff positions. That May, his former and boyhood team lifted their fifth European Cup in Istanbul.
2005-06 would prove a much more successful season for Lambert personally – he scored 22, a third of the Dales’ league goals, but they finished in a disappointing mid-table position. Fellow mid-table side Bristol Rovers purchased Lambert for £200k on Deadline Day, August 2006, and his 8 goals helped them to a Playoff position. He went on to score an important goal to give them a 4-1 aggregate lead (in an eventual 7-4 win) against Lincoln City, before playing for the duration of the 3-1 win that secured promotion at the Wembley against Shrewsbury Town. By then 25 years-old and having made 235 Football League appearances, Lambert was ready to step back up a level. He was on form during the subsequent two seasons – scoring 13 and then 29 league goals (making him the leage’s top-scorer) as the Gas first survived and then established themselves in the mid-table. He scored 1 in one for Rovers at the start of 2009-10 but the £1m bid that arrived from newly-relegated Southampton could not be rejected.
Southampton had been relegated amidst financial crisis and faced a 10 point deficit for their insolvency issues – were it not for this, Lambert’s 30 goals would have helped secure a Playoff position and a chance at testing himself in the Championship. Nevertheless, the Saints went again and were promoted as runners-up to Brighton and Hove Albion in 2010-11, with their Scouse forward netting 21 goals. Lambert flourished in the Championship – despite having never played at that level, he proved himself a more than capable performer and struck 27 goals as Nigel Adkin’s side achieved a second successive promotion and a return to the Premier League after a seven year absence. Saints supporters adored their forward, who had scored them 88 goals in one-hundred and fifty-eight appearances (all competitions) over three seasons – they, and Lambert himself, knew that he would be fundamental if they were to survival in the top-flight.
Southampton performed admirably but lost all four of their opening four fixtures – Lambert had already offered them a glimmer of hope, however, by scoring an opening day equaliser away to Manchester City and giving them the lead at home to Man United. Lambert scored twice at home to Villa in September, securing Southampton’s first league victory of the season. A tough run followed, whereby the Saints took just 2 points from six matches but November yielded 8 points and Lambert was back amongst the goals as the Club showed the first signs of survival potential. A run of six games undefeated after Christmas was notable for the shock dismissal of Adkins but his Argentinean successor, Mauricio Pochettino, was able to sustain his side’s momentum whilst adapting their style and eventually secured a 14th place finish – helped, in no small part, by top-scorer Lambert’s 15 goals. A significant personal achievement came in March 2013, when he scored Southampton’s second goal in a 3-1 home victory against Liverpool – the Club who he had long-supported and who released him some sixteen years previously.
Further personal significance would come in the form of international recognition in August, with Roy Hodgson giving Lambert his England debut – he duly scored with his first touch and added a second headed international goal within a month, against Moldova. Mauricio Pochettino had recruited boldly during the summer of 2013 but only defender Dejan Lovren proved a major success, with Dani Osvaldo being loaned out to Juventus midway through the season and Victor Wanyama’s season being disrupted due to injury. Those details make the Saints’ 8th place finish, amidst a season in which they controversially lost Chairman Nicola Cortese, all the more impressive. Lambert contributed 13 league goals during the season, continuing to demonstrate an excellent understanding with teammates Jay Rodriguez and Adam Lallana. The trio of Southampton attackers, as well as full-back Luke Shaw, were hotly-tipped for a World Cup call-up – such a role would have been unthinkable for Lambert in the recent past but, during the last season, it would have been his exclusion that would have been more unthinkable. Sadly, it was ligament damage to his Southampton teammate, Rodriguez, that ultimately secured Lambert’s place in the squad. Lambert is unlikely to be handed a starting berth for England this summer but is more than ready to make an impact – he has 28 Premier League goals to his name, and a further 2 internationally, whilst his record of having scored his last 32 successive penalties may just be a statistic that gets a mention during June 2014.
Rickie Lambert’s journey from teenage disappointment at Kirkby, through seasons of fourth tier football, to the World Cup in Brazil, is remarkable and will be retold to lower league hopefuls within the country for many years to come. The resilience and quality displayed during his rise to the Premier League has been commendable and he has adapted at every level. Lambert’s journey does not appear to be ending in Brazil, however – reputable Merseyside sources lent their backing to suggestions that the former-Liverpool youth is on the brink of securing a return to the Club on Thursday night. At thirty-two years-old, and with just two-years left on his Southampton deal, it is rumoured that the deal could start as low as £4m. The speculation has drawn comparisons with Teddy Sheringham’s successful spell at Man United and Robbie Fowler’s shock dream-return to Anfield in 2006 – typically, Andy Carroll has also been mentioned. Despite his big frame, assumptions that Lambert is a one-dimensional centre-forward of aerial prowess should be avoided – his technical ability has been demonstrated in his record from set-pieces and his style has very much complemented the progressive football that Southampton played under departing-Manager, Mauricio Pochettino.
Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, despite both being absent during spells, proved themselves football’s deadliest strikeforce last season but Liverpool supporters are aware of the accelerated progress under Brendan Rodgers and know that challenges lie in wait. Champions League qualification has immediately added six matches to their season and they will hope for better runs in both domestic cups – they need reinforcements if they are to be able to compete on these additional levels whilst challenging again in the league. Fabio Borini is due to return next season, after a successful loan spell with Sunderland, but both he and Iago Aspas are yet to demonstrate their worth in Liverpool Red. For a rumoured starting price of £4m, Brendan Rodgers appears to have the opportunity to secure a proven talent in Lambert – one who has adapted well at every step of his career and one who must once have dreamt of appearing in front of the Kop in the Champions League under the Anfield floodlights. It’s a move than nobody saw coming, but it is surprising what can make the difference sometimes and Lambert would likely prove an astute addition to Liverpool Football Club.
Ben Lane, of Saints’ blog www.gomarchingin.co.uk, offered the following thoughts on Rickie Lambert’s expected departure, as well as the departure of Mauricio Pochettino and the rumours surrounding Dejan Lovren and Adam Lallana:
The rumour came right out of the blue via Twitter, it all happened so quick that it didn’t seem real. What we heard initially is that you had offered £8m and then it changed to £4m ‘plus add ons’. To be honest, I think any Saints fan would have ripped your arm off at £8m, but at £4m I feel we’re being short-changed, especially as he is still such a key player for us.
Lambert, during his time at Saints, has cemented himself into club folklore: another Le Tissier for sure, however there will no doubt be some bitterness from some supporters that he has ‘abandoned’ us. He is the symbol of our resurrection from League 1 after the administration period and I know that I can speak for many other season ticket holders when I say that we have invested so much emotionally into him. I have never celebrated an England goal like I celebrated his vs Scotland; it felt like my child had scored. I cannot speak highly enough of the man and I just hope that in years to come he states that his time at Southampton was worthwhile and that he enjoyed himself because we certainly enjoyed him.
I certainly do not begrudge him his move to Liverpool, no true fan would. However, with Sturridge and Suarez he obviously won’t start and will be an impact player at best for you, whereas at St. Mary’s he is still almost certain to start. At 32, he probably only has two seasons left at this level but he certainly will give his childhood club his all, he did every time for us.
One man who will not go down in Saints folklore, in my opinion, is Pochettino. He was brought in in an underhanded manner and he left in one. Towards the end it was clear he was going to leave and now it seems clear he was using us as a stepping stone to build up his career. He will one day manage at the ‘top top’ level as he is a great coach and we played great football, but as a man, the only word I could use is ‘lizard’. Also, he took far too much credit for the work Adkins did with the youngsters, especially Shaw. What is worrying is the involvement Les Reed has at our club in choosing the new manager: we’ve been told that ‘big names’ are linked, but the bookmakers are suggesting Moyes (no thanks). I think most would want a manager in the mould of Poch, a Yakin or a Koeman, but then do you go for style over loyalty?
Lovren and Lallana: Every one of us would be devastated if they left; Lovren has almost zero pace, but is a great CB in other areas and in his short space of time has become very popular with the fan base. I can still remember being at the Hawthorns on a cold Tuesday night when Lallana scored his first goal for Saints in the Championship (the first time). He has progressed immeasurably this season and deserves to start, I feel, vs Italy. He is too good for us, but again, I know that the fan base are sick and tired of the board selling off our Bales, Walcotts and Oxlade-Chamberlains. We sold those when we were skint but now we’re backed by Swiss Billionaires, it just makes no sense, but then again, my Grandad would tell you that nothing with Saints makes sense and he’s being going since 1946.
Originally published at: http://www.theredmentv.com/blog/p/15308
© Jack Harte, The Redmen TV, 2014