Last season was for Rickie Lambert the thing that dreams are made off. Starring in a high flying Premiership side as their lead striker, pulling on an England Jersey aged 31 for your first cap against arch rivals Scotland before scoring the winning and finishing the season as part of England’s World Cup squad heading for Brazil. And now to top things off, he is heading back to his boyhood club Liverpool as their first summer signing. You could hardly blame Lambert if he felt that he needed to pinch himself. Liverpool are obviously keen to take advantage of Mauricio Pochettino’s departure from Southampton and snap up Lambert for a fee believed to be in the region of £4million before the new manager has a chance to object. Or perhaps Liverpool wants to make sure they land the burly striker in advance of any star World Cup performance which brings in other suitors. Either way, Liverpool are playing their cards early as they gear up for another assault on the Premiership title and Champions League.
But the question that needs to be asked is why manager Brendan Rodgers has bought Lambert and how he intends to use his new striking option. In addition, given that Lambert is used to playing as a lone striker, can he adapt to Liverpool’s style of playing with two strikers. Likely Rodgers will use him sporadically as a different threat than his preferred current striking duo of Sturridge and Suarez. It’s also likely that Lambert will make more match appearances from the bench that he will start, which could in the long run damage Lambert’s ambitions to gain more England caps before his impending retirement in the next four to five years. At 32, this is Lamberts last big move and whilst Liverpool is a huge club, it’s hard to see how Lambert will be playing regularly as he would like or need to be. So whilst a move away from Southampton is inevitable, would a move to another Premiership club or abroad that could offer a starting slot be more beneficial to the player?
Depending on how Lambert plays at the World Cup, he could have his choice of clubs to play for. Lambert should look at Irish defender Gary Breen, who after a starring role at the 2002 World Cup in South Korea and Japan ended up with a move to Inter Milan before a failed medical that curtailed his Italian dream just as it began. Inter Milan were rumoured to have fought off Barcelona and Bayern Munich to seal Breen’s signature, which shows how powerful a showcasing tool the World Cup can be. This isn’t to say that this would or could happen for Lambert but he won’t know until after the end of the tournament or at least until England is knocked out. By signing for Liverpool now, his options are reduced to the bare minimum with few clubs likely to test the waters to sign him. Playing for your boyhood club is a dream of many a player and Lambert came close to doing so after being on Liverpool’s books for five years as a kid. But in the end they released him and kick started the long road back to the top for Lambert from lower league to World Cup. Heading back may open up old wounds but Lambert is older and wiser now so should be able to cope with it. Whether it ruins his career which he has fought so hard to build may however be harder to cope with.
Lambert breezed through his medical yesterday and signed the contract that officially makes him a Liverpool player. He spoke about fulfilling his dream to play once again for the club he loves and will be focused on proving his worth right from the first kick. Lambert will be aware that Liverpool have trudged this road before with a traditional British number 9 in the form of Andy Carroll with disastrous consequences. Carroll, a £35 million buy from Newcastle, failed to adapt to Liverpool’s system of playing and after a trouble filled 18 months was shipped out on loan to West Ham before eventually making the move permanent. Like Lambert, Carroll at the time had just made his break through into the England team and was seen as the future but now, after flopping at Liverpool, struggles to catch Roy Hodgson’s attention. Lambert must be careful not to fall into the same trap as Carroll who saw a move to Liverpool as the start of something great only for it to end in failure. If the same happened to Lambert, it would be the second time around that he was let down by the club he loves but unlike the younger Carroll, it may end up being the killer career move for the new England number nine.