Not since Alan Shearer or Michael Owen has England had a traditional front man but now with the emergence of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, has England finally found one? The 31-year-old striker may be a late starter to the international scene but he is making his opportunity count with two goals in two appearances so far. With qualification for Brazil 2014 still on the agenda for Roy Hodgson, the England manager is already planning for the what if scenario and identifying areas of needed improvement.
For a long time now England has relied heavily on the talents of Wayne Rooney to get them through major tournaments but the Manchester United striker has too often been posted missing when the chips are down. Hodgson has tried various options from Daniel Sturridge to Jermaine Defoe to Danny Welbeck with little success but Lambert’s early success is giving the 60 year coach food for thought. A consistent goal scorer at club level for Southampton, Lambert has deserved his chance even if his journey to get there has been slightly longer than some of his international teammates. The truth is that Lambert’s rise to England international is nothing short of inspirational and shows what determination and hard work can lead to.
Having started in the lower leagues with Blackpool, Lambert worked his way up the leagues playing in every division in England, making him one of only a handful of players to do so. Whilst his time at the Blackpool didn’t quite work out as planned, moves to Macclesfield Town and then Stockport County proved more fruitful to Lambert as he started to find his goal scoring touch. In the 2001-2002 season, Lambert broke his duck and in some style hitting 10 goals in 40 appearances for the club. A club record transfer to Stockport (£300,000) saw Lambert climb up a division but he was up to the task despite struggling in his first season at the club. His second season was more productive hitting 13 goals during the campaign, attracting the interest of Rochdale who eventually persuaded Stockport to release their prize asset in February 2005. After 66 games and 28 goals later, Lambert would secure the move that would launch him to the public eye with a transfer to Bristol Rovers.
Over four seasons, Lambert was in fine goal scoring form hitting 59 goals in 155 games, helping Bristol in his second season at the club to promotion to League One. The following season Lambert earned recognition for his strong work ethic and abilities in front of goal, finishing the season’s joint-top scorer of 29 goals with Swindon Town’s Simon Cox. Unfortunately Lambert’s goals were not enough to stop Bristol from dropping back down the league but his performances were sufficient to persuade Southampton to part with £1 million for his services. Since then Lambert has been in blistering form rocketing Southampton back up the leagues, climbing from League one to the Premiership in less than five years. To date Lambert games to goal ratio for Southampton is 2 to 1, leading his current manager Mauricio Pochettino to proclaim that he is “one of the best strikers he has ever seen”.
It wasn’t long before Hodgson started to take notice and finally gave the front man his first call up for the friendly squad to face Scotland at Wembley in August. On the 14th of August, and in need of inspiration, Lambert rose from the England bench to make his debut and marked the occasion by hitting the winner with a powerful header past Allan McGregor. Less than three weeks later, Lambert was handed a starting berth by Hodgson against Moldova in the World Cup qualifiers and rewarded the boss for his faith by scoring another powerful header and showing his setup play by gifting Danny Welbeck with two clear opportunities to score.
Hodgson has a dilemma on his hands but a good one at that – to leave Lambert on the bench against Ukraine or to start him? The media attention going into today’s match with Ukraine has been around Frank Lampard landing his 100th cap for England but if Lambert can continue his international scoring record and find the winner, the back pages may well be talking about finally finding a player to lead the line for England at the World Cup next summer.