A few months ago, a chant of "Lambert for England" from Southampton fans would have gotten a smile and a nice chuckle. You would say that Rickie Lambert is a nice, serviceable player, but he would have no chance of playing international football.
Today, that chant has to be taken seriously. Look at the list of strikers that have appeared in the England squad over the past year. Yes, Lambert wouldn't rank ahead of Wayne Rooney or Jermaine Defoe. But Darren Bent, Danny Welbeck, Daniel Sturridge, Gabriel Agbonlahor, Bobby Zamora, Fraizer Campbell and Raheem Sterling? Lambert compares favorably with that cast.
In his first six games in the Premier League, Lambert has tallied four goals and two assists. The four goals currently tie him for fifth in the Premier League, trailing only Demba Ba, Robin van Persie, Steven Fletcher and Luis Suarez. The Merseyside native hasn't been scoring just on the weaker teams in the Premier League either; two of his goals have come against Manchester City and Manchester United.
Goals scored isn't the only metric in which Lambert ranks in the top 10. In the Premier League's EA Sports Player Performance Index, The 30-year-old currently ranks eighth among forwards. That's ahead of more highly regarded strikers such as Defoe, Edin Dzeko, Bent, Papiss Cisse, Welbeck and Mario Balotelli.
If you aren't a stats person, let's take a look at Lambert's skills on the pitch. Lambert is an absolute force in the air, as he proved against Manchester United by overpowering Rafael on the far post (0:05 in this video.)
Also in the Manchester United game, Lambert proved that he can deliver crosses with pinpoint precision. At 2:00 in this video, you can see Lambert set up Morgan Schneiderlin's header with a perfectly-weighted cross right between the penalty spot and the top of the six-yard box where no keeper would have a chance to claim it.
Where do you rank Rickie Lambert among Premier League strikers?
Lambert is adept at finishing with both feet and with power. This video shows the variety of ways that he can score, something he has done for Southampton 57 times in two seasons in League One, 27 times in one season in the Championship, and now four already in six Premier League matches.
Lambert's record at taking penalties shows that he's not afraid of pressure or the spotlight. Since joining Southampton, Lambert has converted all 26 penalty kicks he has attempted.
Granted, Lambert isn't the paciest player out there, but his mobility has improved since joining Southampton, something for which he credits former manager Alan Pardew.
"Before, I wasn't as professional as I should have been," Lambert said in an interview with Richard Jolly of The National. "Pardew was one of the main reasons why I got into the right shape with the right standards. Eating, drinking and sleeping properly."
After languishing in the lower leagues for years, Lambert isn't just happy to have made it to the Premier League. The man who used to work in a beetroot factory has his eyes set on the Golden Boot, and would become the first Englishman to win it since Kevin Phillips did it in 1999-2000.
"I want to be in the race for the Golden Boot. It is a massive achievement to win it. I will give it a good go and try my best. There are so many good strikers out there now but who knows? It could be my year," Lambert told Daniel Cutts of The Daily Mail.
"I am very proud to be up (among the goal scoring leaders) now but it is only five games into the season. Hopefully I will be scoring more and more, helping (Southampton) win more games."
If Lambert can continue his pace and score 20-plus goals while helping keep Southampton in the Premier League next season, he will force people to consider him one of the Premier League's top 10 strikers, and force England manager Roy Hodgson to take notice.