Nobody knew it was happening until Thursday afternoon, but after news of Liverpool's £4M bid for Rickie Lambert went public, it was only a matter of time before he showed up at Anfield leaning on things as part of the club's official announcement. As expected, that announcement has now been made, and Liverpool fans can officially welcome their first signing of the summer—and welcome back a player who began his career at the Liverpool academy two decades ago.
The 32-year-old striker from Kirkby began his career at the Liverpool Academy but was released in 1997, leaving Lambert to wander the lower leagues. He worked part time jobs and played for semi-pro sides, a lower league journeyman. Blackpool, Macclesfield Town, Stockport, Rochdale, and Bristol Rovers where his stops from 1998 through 2009, when he finally found a home with League One side Southampton. He climbed the leagues with them, becoming something of a talisman.
When the chance to return to his boyhood club came along, he couldn't turn down the opportunity, no matter his feelings towards Southampton and its fans. Having risen through the leagues with them, it seems unlikely he would have pushed for a move elsewhere. Liverpool coming for him, though, was another matter, and returning to potentially end his career at the club where it first began in the city he grew up in was a chance he had to take.
"I can't believe it," he said, speaking to Liverpool's official site about his return after nearly two decades away. "I've loved this club all my life. I left here 17 years ago - and I haven't stopped loving it since. I have always dreamt of playing for Liverpool, but I did kind of think the chance of playing for them had gone. I didn't think the chance would come."
Tall and physical but also solid technical player, Lambert will offer Liverpool a clear alternative when they're pressing late in games, and though he's a target man striker, he's far more than a target for crosses. Excelling at taking the ball into his feet and holding up play, his ten assists last season to go with ten goals from open play speak to his ability to bring his teammates into the action.
He also provides a clear, high quality option off the bench who won't mind the fact that he won't be first choice—something that, with the two best strikers in England last season in the squad, was a necessity in any striker signing. He makes Liverpool a better, even if his isn't the flashiest of names or a player many had thought the club would be after until they'd just about signed him. And, at the end of the day, his Liverpool return is just a damn good story.