During his days bottling beetroots in a local Kirkby factory Rickie Lambert might only have dreamed of finding the back of the net in the pinnacle of European club football. Undergoing early setbacks, being released by both boyhood club Liverpool, having joined the academy aged 10, and Blackpool (despite two league starts), Lambert’s aspirations of a career in professional football seemed a distant prospect. Yet fourteen years later, back at the team he supported as a boy and a fully-fledged England international, Lambert buried his effort past Vladislav Stoyanov of Ludogorets Razgrad to score his first goal in the Champions League. With a professional history played throughout the leagues and characterised by an interminable determination to succeed, it was a personal achievement entirely deserved.
With a resilience and character clearly appreciated by his managers – Roy Hodgson brought him into the England set up aged 31, late in the day for an international debut, while Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers brought him back to Liverpool from Southampton. It was with the Saints that Lambert enjoyed the most success of his journeyman career, seeing the south coast club promoted from League One to the Premier League largely on his contribution in front of goal as the clubs top scorer every season from his first in 2009, opening his account on his debut just one day after signing, to 2013, and in 2014 coming second to Luis Suarez in league assists. It was his form at Southampton that, regardless of his advancing years, led Lambert to be sought out by both Rodgers and Hodgson; and he has endeavoured to continue that success in the latest outlets of his career.
Though Liverpool have found a season without star strikers Luis Suarez, who departed for Barcelona, and Daniel Sturridge, sidelined since the second game, Lambert has played a large part in abating those concerns. With his goals in games with Ludogorets and Crystal Palace, Lambert has scored twice in his last three games. It was with his goal in the Champions League, scored past the impressive Bulgarian side that ran holders Real Madrid close and pulled off a surprise victory over the often-troublesome FC Basel- that Lambert reached an impressive personal landmark. Having now scored in all four of England’s top domestic leagues, all three domestic cup competitions (FA Cup, League Cup and St. Johnstone’s Paint Trophy), and the Champions League.
The quality that has seen Lambert become such an attractive property in the latter stages of his career may well be the time spent in those lower leagues of English football. Such a varied and extensive footballing history, with the added benefits of time to develop his own game and the confidence gained from excelling at each level before progressing upwards (as opposed to being somewhat dropped in the deep end of the top flight) are likely contributing factors to his current success. Furthermore, Lambert stands as both an example and a spectre of good fortune for the likes of Danny Ings (a fellow Championship Player of the Year winner) and Charlie Austin, whose Burnley and QPR sides were promoted to the Premiership this season. Both following similar career trajectories to Lambert, the pair have publicly extolled the virtues of their times in smaller leagues, with Ings plying his trade in the conference, while Austin donned the shirt of semi-professional Poole Town as recently as 2009.
As Lambert’s career prospects continue to rise, the determination that has lead him to his success stands as an example to young footballers nationwide. Finding success at every level and overcoming early setbacks to achieve his goals, Lambert is evidently deserving of his recent accomplishments.
What steps might Lambert take to further prolong his career and find future success?