For any player, signing for your boyhood club would be a dream come true. For Rickie Lambert, that dream this week became a reality. The striker - and lifelong Liverpool fan - joined the Reds for an initial £4million on Monday, bringing an end to his five-year stay with Southampton.
His rise in the world of football has been discussed at great lengths, having signed for the south coast side five years ago from then League one outfit Bristol Rovers. Looking further back, Lambert briefly worked in a beetroot bottling plant to make ends meet in 2000 before signing for Macclesfield in March 2001. It's a real life fairy tale for the player, who worked his way through the leagues to sign for his favourite team and is now set to represent his country at the World Cup.
While he is unlikely to force his way past Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in the Liverpool starting XI, Lambert's acquisition has been widely praised by supporters on the back of two successful campaigns. Only Suarez (71), Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie (both 49) and Steven Gerrard (44) have registered more goals and assists than Lambert (43) in the last two Premier League seasons as he helped Saints stave off relegation following their return to the big time. Despite being tipped to return to the Championship at the first time of asking, Saints have now established themselves as a top-tier team thanks to the great work of Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino.
It's disheartening to see any team pulled apart bit-by-bit, but the performances of the side under Pochettino inevitably saw key players linked with a move away from St. Mary's. Any side that punches above their weight in the Premier League will often attract the interest of bigger teams and Lambert was no exception.
Only compatriot Jay Rodriguez (15) scored more goals than Lambert (13) last season of every Saints player, while only the likes of Dejan Lovren, Adam Lallana and Luke Shaw secured a better WhoScored rating (6.99). Unsurprisingly, the quartet have also all been linked with a summer exit, following in the footsteps of Pochettino - who succeeded Tim Sherwood at Tottenham - and the experienced striker.
Lambert was frequently deployed as the focal point in the Saints attack, though it would be wrong to dub him an 'old fashioned' centre-forward. Rather than operate as the their battering ram, the 32-year-old dropped deeper to use his strength to hold off the opposition and bring teammates into play, thus allowing Rodriguez and Lallana to flourish.
This granted the striker the chance to exhibit his creative ability and saw only Liverpool duo Gerrard (13) and Suarez (12) register more league assists than Lambert (10) last term. The inventive side of his game is what Saints will desperately miss now he is gone. While Lambert netted his fair share of goals, his assists were crucial to the team finishing as high as they did in their second season back in the Premier League, while they also highlight how dangerous a threat he was with his back to goal as well.
Focusing on his new team, this inclination to drop from attack into midfield to receive the ball will benefit the lively Liverpool attackers. A far cry from being a striker in the Andy Carroll mould, Lambert is better suited to helping in build-up play rather than merely finishing the goalscoring chances. Nevertheless, that isn't to say he can't get on the end of these opportunities when needs must, as only Suarez (17) and Sturridge (14) netted more clear-chances than Lambert (11) last season.
Only Suarez (22) created more clear-cut goalscoring chances than Lambert (13) in the league last season (the latter's figure incidentally matched by new teammate Philippe Coutinho). When taking into account Lambert will now be playing alongside Suarez, Sturridge, Coutinho and the ever-improving Raheem Sterling, that figure certainly has the potential to rise.
As one of only four players to reach double figures for both goals and assists last season, Lambert is the ideal alternative to Suarez and Sturridge when Liverpool are struggling to break down a staunch backline. Take the defeat to Chelsea at Anfield in April, an encounter that ultimately spelt the beginning of the end for Liverpool's title charge. With ten men behind the ball, Gerrard often resorted to pot shots from distance, a tactic that ultimately failed. While Lambert isn't as clinical as Sturridge or skilful as Suarez, the striker dropping deeper may have helped pull defenders out of position to create an opening for Liverpool.
Compared to the likes of Victor Moses and Iago Aspas, Rodgers must be counting his blessings that he now boasts a striker who can make a difference in the Liverpool attack compared to the aforementioned duo, who mustered just 13 shots and one goal in the league between them last term.
Lambert may not be a guaranteed starter with the Merseysiders, but the striker will certainly receive ample playing time next term as a result of Liverpool's return to the Champions League and the greater demands on their squad. He offers Rodgers a more polished and experienced plan B, who can not only create, but score as well.
There is little sell-on value for a player his age, but the £4million spent represents a bargain in the eyes of supporters, who feel Lambert is the final piece in Liverpool's attacking puzzle. Fans are expected to keep a close eye on the striker during the World Cup and an impressive showing in Brazil - if he gets a chance, that is - will have the Liverpool faithful hoping Lambert can help fire the Reds to their first league title since 1990.
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All statistics courtesy of http://www.whoscored.com where you can find yet more stats and player ratings.