Saturday, 31 May 2014

Rickie Lambert: A True Southampton Legend

In life, there will always be setbacks, but if you have the desire and belief to climb the ladder to success, it will come to you. That is the story of outgoing Southampton striker Rickie Lambert who is set to move to his boyhood club, Liverpool. Born in the Kirkby area of the city, Lambert was released by the Reds when he was 15 and has gone on an incredible journey that not even himself could have predicted. However, nobody can take away any of that from a man who never gave a sign of giving up. 

After his release by Blackpool, Lambert found himself working in a beetroot factory before Macclesfield Town came calling. The 32-year-old also had spells at Stockport County, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before he moved to Southampton in the summer of 2009 for £1 million. He was given the famous number seven shirt which has been worn by the likes of Matt Le Tissier, Terry Paine, Alan Ball and Kevin Keegan. The only recollection I had of Lambert at the time was the free-kick he scored for Bristol Rovers against Saints in the FA Cup in 2008. However, there would be many memorable moments of the England international during his five years on the south coast by the St. Mary's faithful where he enjoyed a lot of success. 

When Lambert first arrived at St. Mary's, he had to change his diet and improve his fitness and the results have paid off since. In his first season, he scored 36 goals which 30 of them were in the league and was rewarded with the League One Golden Boot. He opened the scoring in the 2010 Johnstone's Paint Trophy final at Wembley with one of his trade-mark penalties as the Saints triumphed over Carlisle United 4-1 to win their first trophy since 1976. Lambert saw a change in manager in the first four games of the 2010/2011 season as Nigel Adkins replaced the man who brought him to Saints, Alan Pardew. After their poor start, Southampton rapidly moved up the League One table as they finished runners-up to earn promotion back to the Championship. 

Lambert cherished the opportunity playing in the second tier. However, his critics were quick to write him off suggesting he wouldn't be able to score as many as goals as he did in Leagues One and Two. This only spurred Lambert on as he was the Championship's top scorer with 27 goals and won the Championship Player of the Year along with securing a second successive promotion to guide the Saints back to the Premier League. 
PREMIER LEAGUE, HERE WE COME!: Rickie Lambert celebrating with the Saints fans
So far, it's a remarkable story but another chapter opened for Lambert as he geared up for his first crack at the top flight of English football. Cast your day back to 19th August 2012 when Saints arrived at the then Premier League champions Manchester City in what would be another achievement in the career of Rickie Lambert. He came off the bench to equalise within two minutes with a side-footed curling effort past Joe Hart. Every Saints fan will never, ever forget that moment and it was fitting that Lambert would score the club's first Premier League goal since 2005. He also scored against Manchester United two weeks later which he certainly enjoyed. However, Saints would go on to lose 3-2 at St. Mary's. 

As the season went on, the step up in class didn't phase Lambert at all as he kept scoring vital goals against QPR, Fulham, Stoke, Aston Villa and Chelsea before the centre-forward was working with new manager Mauricio Pochettino in January 2013. Lambert continued his good season form and a few weeks later scored his 100th goal for Southampton in the 4-2 defeat at Newcastle in which was his 12th in the Premier League. Who could forget that free-kicks he scored against Liverpool (by the aid of a deflection) and Chelsea both of which were at St. Mary's. Lambert also scored on the final day of the 2012/2013 season against Stoke which brought his Premier League tally to 15. It was an astonishing achievement for a man who had never played in the the top flight before and the talk of getting an England call-up was growing. 

The 8th of August 2013 is yet another date that Lambert will always keep fond memories of. In the early hours, his wife Amy gave birth to their daughter, Bella Rose and a few hours later, received his maiden England call-up for the friendly against Scotland. Six days later at Wembley, Lambert came off the bench and did this: 

When that header went in the back of the net, I, along with many Saints fans, was feeling over the moon for him and even shedding a few tears. Lambert was bouyed by his first international goal and was soon on the scoresheet three days later as he scored a late penalty at West Brom to give Saints an opening day win. To cap off an unforgettable August, Lambert was called-up by England manager Roy Hodgson once again for the World Cup qualifiers against Moldova and Ukraine. The Liverpudlian started both games for the Three Lions and managed to score his second goal against Moldova, including two assists, while putting in an impressive performance in Ukraine. 

Despite talk of the World Cup, Lambert remained focused for Southampton and helped the club rise up the table. He also came off the bench in the 1-0 defeat to Germany at Wembley in November to register his fourth cap for England. After Southampton's best ever Premier League start, their form dipped and so did Lambert's. However, he came over his two separate goal-scoring droughts to help the Saints achieve their highest points total in the top flight with an eight place finish. It would be fitting that Lambert scored Saints' last two goals of the season against Swansea and Manchester United, the latter would be his last goal for the club. Lambert finished the season with 13 goals in 37 league games. 

On 12th May, Lambert received the all-important phone call to sat that he had been selected for the 23-man squad to go to the World Cup along with team-mates Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw. There is nobody more deserving to go to Brazil than Rickie Lambert, especially with the career that he has had from rejection at a young age, to working his way up the English football pyramid to get the chance to play for his country on the world's biggest stage. 

While every Saints fan was looking forward to watching their heroes represent their countries at the World Cup, it was a shock when the news was announced just as soon as Thursday that Liverpool had agreed a fee for Lambert. To lose our talisman is a massive blow for everybody connected to Southampton as he has been one of the main reasons for the club's rapid rise from League One to the Premier League. As much as everybody is to be resigned to losing him, nobody can say that Lambert doesn't deserve it. An offer like that is just too good to turn down, especially from the club he has supported since he was a boy and with the offer of Champions League football. Lambert will complete his move to Anfield on Monday after completing a medical on Saturday morning.

FOND FAREWELL: Rickie Lambert nets for Saints for
the very last time against Manchester United

I've asked for Saints fans on social media to give their favourite Rickie moments and here is what they had to say:

It's going to be a long summer for every Southampton fan as speculation continues to grow surrounding their best players. It's a huge shame and shock to lose a fantastic player like Rickie Lambert. I had the pleasure of meeting him and he is a lovely man who is always smiling and very down to earth. I speak for all Saints fans to say that I can't thank Rickie enough for the pleasure and happiness he has given all of us over the past five years at Southampton with his goals including his 100% penalty record (34 out of 34). What a man he is and I wish him all the best for the World Cup and at Liverpool where he will absolutely be jumping for joy when he gets started for them next season. 

Thank you so much Rickie!

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