WEMBLEY STADIUM, LONDON — We often speak of “playing for the shirt,” “having passion for the shirt” and giving your all for your country.
It’s fair to say England have lacked that attitude in recent years, but Rickie Lambert is a man who puts his heart and soul into every step. You’ve heard the stories, you know he’s the idyllic underdog, but what you might not realise is that he has a genuine future in this England setup—should they qualify for the 2014 World Cup.
He’s criticised heavily, but that’s always been the case. They said he wouldn’t make it in the Championship; he replied with 31 goals. They said he’d falter in the Premier League; he responded with 15 more strikes. His call-up to the England squad was a farce; he’s quickly putting that notion to bed too.
There was an element of desperation surrounding his first call to the setup, but he responded in the perfect fashion; laughing and joking, telling the press that everyone was running rings around him in training and coming up with new nicknames for the team.
On the pitch, though, he was deadly serious, netting a bullet header on his debut against Scotland. The nation went wild, the transformation from factory worker to game-winner was complete.
Injuries to Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge necessitated him starting against Moldova on Friday evening, and he grasped that chance with both hands too (one goal and two assists in a 4-0 triumph).
He’s a largely misunderstood player; technically very adept, boasts great movement and has a fantastic eye for a finish. He’s a predator both inside and outside the box.
But his passing range is also top-notch, and he consistently makes the correct decisions when slotting his teammates through. His aerial presence gives him a third edge, and he’s every bit the complete, modern forward national teams want.
I know what your thinking: “It’s only Moldova!” But one glance at him in person turning out for England tells you everything you need to know, regardless of opposition strength.
Be it Spain or the Faroe Islands, Lambert will be a restless, demanding, tough presence to deal with. England, as a nation, are always going to resort to lumping it against tougher opposition, so why not play with a target man who can bring it down and lay it off?
Lambert is streets ahead of Andy Carroll in the passing game, and the two sublime passes laid on for both of Danny Welbeck’s goals only further evidenced that.
He’s never going to be the unanimous choice, and he doesn’t play for a “big club” like most others do, but is there really any reason Lambert can’t be for England what Fred is for Brazil?
Hardly the popular pick, Fred did his talking on the pitch, played the target-man role to perfection, created space for Neymar and is now a lock in Luiz Felipe Scolari's squad.
England have a host of other plays that could thrive in a similar fashion, with Daniel Sturridge and Wayne Rooney among those names.
But perhaps most importantly, the nation adore England's No. 11 on the night. The biggest cheer in the stadium came when Lambert's name was announced before the game, and a standing ovation followed his exit.
The English public struggle to act enthused over the national team, and understandably so—could the former Bristol Rovers man be the one to ignite the country?