Liverpool's capture of Rickie Lambert came as something of a surprise. By the time anyone knew Liverpool were even in for the striker, Southampton had already accepted a bid of around £4M for his services. More than that, though, he wasn't a player anybody would have thought of linking with a Liverpool move when the football season ended and transfer silly season kicked off.
Yes, he was a former Red; a local talent. And yes, he was a solid technician despite his reputation as a target man. But he was also 32 years old and, with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge already in the squad, anybody speculating about potential striker targets in the transfer market was fixated on rather bigger and flashier names, overlooking the likes of Lambert. Everyone except for Brendan Rodgers.
"I’ve seen Rickie Lambert over the years and he’s one of those players that probably never got the recognition for what a really good footballer he is," said Rodgers. "It’s only late on in his career—at 29, 30, 31—that people are really starting to focus on his qualities. He was probably seen as the traditional big number nine, a British striker that is good in the air, but he’s one of the most accomplished footballers I’ve seen."
Few, if any, would have imagined Rickie Lambert arriving at Liverpool this summer. Now that he has, it's easy to see how he fits in—especially behind the two best strikers in England last season. Liverpool need proven quality willing to come off the bench; a player who can offer another dimension without requiring the team to completely change its style around him.
Lambert offers that. He's a target man, but he isn't a lump there to have crosses whipped at his head, preferring to have the ball played to feet and able to set up his teammates as they run past. He's a hold up player who can also do a job in the air thanks to his stature; not speedy but smart, and perfectly suited for when Liverpool are dominating possession late on or against lower level opposition that sits back.
"It has been so refreshing that he’s got his call into the England team," added Rodgers, "and he certainly hasn’t let anyone down—he has been outstanding. Look at his touch, look at the level of his goals, the different types of goals he has scored over his career, and he’s a specialist on penalties as well. I think he is a terrific footballer and any team he plays against, he’s always a handful."
Next season, he gets to come home after 17 years away and be Liverpool's footballer. And somebody else's handful.
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