At the end of the day, England fans don’t care about Rickie Lambert’s story.
They don’t care that 12 years ago the Kirkby-born striker spent his summer working in a beetroot factory, or that he once accepted terms of £50 per week from Macclesfield.
They’re not impressed by the fact that in his first Premier League season, at age 31, he finished joint-seventh on the goalscoring ledger with 15 tallies and helped promoted Southampton to a surprising 14th-place finish in the standings.
And while the birth of his third child, which happened to come just hours before his England call-up, represented the best part of what is truly an unlikely, feel-good tale, none of it will resonate much with Three Lions supporters unless he caps it all off with meaningful performances at international level.
That Lambert was even included in Roy Hodgson’s latest squad has, as the England manager admitted, as much to do with a dearth of attacking options as anything else.
“At the moment we are not blessed with enormous choice when it comes to forwards,” conceded the 65-year-old, who also named Wayne Rooney, Jermain Defoe and Danny Welbeck to the side that will face Scotland on August 14.
“But,” he added, “there was no doubt in my mind that [Lambert] was a player who fully deserves his chance.” (Daily Star)
And no one will argue him that.
As a footballing decision, the call-up of Lambert was a very good one—a sensible choice that not only rewarded a prolific campaign at club level but also demonstrated the manager’s willingness to blot out age and reputation when making his selections.
At first glance the obvious reason for the Saints forward’s England invitation is the number of goals he managed to bag last season. Only Robin Van Persie, Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale, Christian Benteke, Michu and Romelu Lukaku managed more in the Premier League in 2012-13, and that he was the top-scoring Englishman in the top flight should always have secured him a call-up, anyway.
But a glance at some more meticulous statistics reveals a player who could be of use to Hodgson beyond his goal-mouth prowess.
Lambert contributed five assists last term and seemed to thrive when an attack-minded teammate positioned himself for a layoff. And of the shots he attempted at goal, 57 per cent hit the target—the identical rate achieved by Rooney and just two per cent less than that posted by Van Persie.
But it was his ability to win one-on-one duels with opponents that made him such a formidable attacker with Southampton. Whether in taking on a defender or challenging in the tackle he came out ahead considerably more often than not, and his club were able to better sustain pressure in front of goal as a result.
Those attributes, as well as his penchant for firing long-range shots at target, will serve him well on Wednesday when, in all likelihood, he earns his first cap for England. And, as Hodgson said, there’s no telling how much he could contribute to the Three Lions in a World Cup year.
“We are trying to qualify for Brazil and if Rickie can help us do that and maybe when we get there I will quite happily turn a blind eye to the fact that he will be 32, then. Because it’s not age that plays football; it’s human beings.” (Daily Star)
But, he added, “It would have been lovely if Rickie was 24, 23 or 22.