The masses finally wake up to the talents of Rickie Lambert
Football’s fashionistas are falling over themselves to acknowledge Southampton striker Rickie Lambert as the Premier League’s latest working-class hero. Grant Holt, Norwich’s status symbol, is so last year, dahling.
It’s all nonsense, of course, but the fuss is a sign that he, and Southampton, have arrived. The only surprise about Lambert’s emergence as an authentic top-class striker is that anyone is, well, surprised.
He is big enough to wear the number seven shirt at Southampton which, like the seven at Liverpool, nine at Newcastle, and 10 in most clubs, has a certain weight about it. It once belonged to Matt Le Tissier, who also dared to be different.
Scouts from all of the big clubs have nibbled at Lambert like fish attacking a piece of bread. But none saw beyond his immediate potential as a combative, physically imposing centre-forward. They were put off by his age, 30, and consequent lack of resale value.
That’s puzzling, given that he has scored 92 goals in the three years since his £1m move from Bristol Rovers. He has converted 26 penalties out of 26, and has his eye on Le Tissier’s club record of 47 out of 48.
He drops deep to link up play and has a good range of passes. He compensates for his lack of pace with spatial awareness and a quick football brain. He is not the big lump up front that some would have you believe his knack of pulling off his marker to find space at the far post has already embarrassed some celebrated defenders.
One of the subplots of Southampton’s season will be the development of his professional relationship with Gastón Ramírez, whose vision and technical ability will create chances for him even in the forbidding environment of the Premier League.
Lambert’s back story challenges the prejudices of what is, despite its global dimensions and superficial glamour, an innately conservative sport. He was unemployed for four months after being released by Blackpool and resurrected his career at Macclesfield, Stockport and Rochdale.
He’s no overnight hero, but he’ll be around for a while.
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