Nine years ago, Liverpool were at the top of Europe, having just won the Champions League in dramatic fashion in Istanbul. The club was higher than it had been in years, and the players were celebrating their hearts out.
Nine years ago, Rickie Lambert was in the middle of signing with League Two outfit Rochdale AFC on a free transfer, having flamed out with Liverpool and Blackpool before scuffling through spells with Macclesfield Town and Stockport County. A lifelong Liverpool fan, his reaction to Liverpool's win was to go out and get a liverbird tatoo.
Now, he's Liverpool's newest signing, coming in on a £4 million deal from Southampton after two excellent seasons in the Premier League with Southampton, seasons he says are all down to the work done by Mauricio Pochettino. In an interview with the Telegraph, Lambert sang Pochettino's praises, starting the ball rolling by saying "everything went my way at Southampton and each manager that came in improved me massively, especially Mauricio."
"[Pochettino] taught me how to be a different kind of player and I think that’s helping now," Lambert went on to say. "I never really got taught to be a striker in the first place and then I never got taught how to be a lone striker. He taught me how to be the lone striker and the thing that I was doing wrong most was the fact I thought I had to show for everyone on the pitch.
"Whoever had the ball, I felt I had to run over and show for the ball, get on the ball. [Pochettino] was saying ‘take your time’ and ‘wait until the right people have got on to the ball’ like Adam Lallana and others further up the pitch. After that, I had an understanding of how to play that position a lot better."
It's that enhanced skillset that makes him so attractive to a club like Liverpool in the first place. Lambert's ability both as a traditional English target man and on the ball actually grew during his time with Pochettino at Southampton, despite being on the wrong side of 30. That growth lead to him becoming a full English international, having a place on the World Cup squad, and now a move to the club he's supported all his life.
"I just needed that chance," Lambert said of the positive turns in his career. "Roy Hodgson gave me the chance and I managed to score on my debut against Scotland. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting a chance at Liverpool either but I have got it. Now that I’ve got it I will do everything to not let it go and I am more than confident that I will take the chance and I will be able to improve my game again. I’ve done that every season. I’m going to get fitter. I’m going to do everything I can to get onto the next level now. Even though I’m 32 I feel like a kid again. I’ve got so much enthusiasm for the game. The fact that I’m playing under Brendan Rodgers and for Liverpool, I just can’t wait."
Lambert is going to be a valuable part of Liverpool's squad next year, and hopefully will be just as much so in the second year of his contract. Given that Lambert is exactly what Liverpool needed to add to their squad, it seems like the entire fanbase should extend Pochettino and his efforts a very warm thanks.