Forget England, Lambert's Fairy Tale Is Written

Plenty of England fans would like to see Roy Hodgson give Rickie Lambert a chance, but Daniel Storey says the striker doesn't need a call-up to complete his fairy tale...

Last Updated: 09/04/13 at 12:50 Post Comment

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After Rickie Lambert scored his 14th Premier League goal with a brilliant free-kick against Chelsea, the calls for the striker to be given an England cap have grown even louder, emphasising just how meteoric the 31-year-old's rise has been.

In fairness, there is great evidence for such clamour. No English player has scored more goals in the Premier League this season despite Southampton's often lowly status, but Lambert's game is much more than simply goals. Whilst Danny Graham and Grant Holt both reached double figures in their debut campaigns in the top flight, both act in a reasonably one-dimensional manner (which has largely contributed to them being 'found out' this time around). Lambert has been credited with nine assists, leaving Theo Walcott and Steven Gerrard as the only Englishmen to provide more goals. This also neatly means that Lambert has provided exactly half of Southampton's league goals this season. That's quite a statistic in your debut Premier League season.

Despite his evident frame, it is almost immediately clear that Southampton's No. 7 is a great deal more than the clichéd old-fashioned English centre-forward. Whilst he is not a man to run the channels, Lambert is prone to dropping deep to pick up the ball (allowing Morgan Schneiderlin or Adam Lallana to break forward), and his range of passing is far superior to last season's Premier League striking fads. Whilst he has a distinct lack of pace, Lambert's football brain and quick feet enable him to make intelligent runs, and he has two of the most celebrated assets of a striker - the ability to find space in the penalty area and the penchant to score many different types of goal.

You can, however, also see Roy Hodgson's thinking. Lambert is now 31, and has only 32 Premier League appearances. Thirty-one is rather old to be starting an international football career, particularly as the next tournament is not for another 14 months. David Beckham was only two years older than Lambert when he made his 115th and last international appearance. In addition, only three players have made their England debuts when older than Lambert. Names such as Chris Powell and Kevin Davies might not inspire Hodgson to change his mind. You can understand why Andy Carroll might be persevered with as a long-term solution, while Lambert's teammate Jay Rodriguez also has more realistic expectations of an international career.

Also, Lambert's propensity to drop deep may not assist him in such a quest. That's a tactic that Wayne Rooney clearly utilises, and with England also tending to use an attacking central midfielder in the hole (Steven Gerrard), midfield could quite easily become rather overcrowded, with little left up front. The national team have often operated with a 'big man' up front (Emile Heskey and Peter Crouch the most evident examples) but as previously discussed, Lambert is this in appearance alone.

However, this all rather misses the point, because whilst it would be a great personal achievement for Lambert to get a cap for his country, his status does not depend on such honours or recognition. Supporters' demands for players to be given international appearances is rather strange, particularly given the current rather indifferent attitude to our country's football team. Southampton fans should know more than most that having an idolized No. 7 who was underused at international level does not affect their iconic status at club level.

The crucial point in Lambert's current success is not that he needs a 20-minute run-around in a friendly against Ireland in May, or against Moldova in September, but the example that he has set to many others.

A fairy tale must start with inauspicious beginnings and in 2000, after being released by Blackpool, Lambert was unemployed for four months before gaining a job in a beetroot factory. After joining Third Division Macclesfield Town in 2001, it was five years before Lambert scored more than 12 goals in a league season, and in his first season at Bristol Rovers in League Two he notched only ten goals in 49 games. By August 2011, he was yet to make a single appearance above the third tier of English football, but nothing got Lambert down: "No matter how many knock-backs I got, I always wanted to play football and that was in me. I would say to people to never give up."

The necessary ingredient of personal struggle also exists in Lambert's tale, and he has admitted that in his early years he used football to fund a rather 'busy' social lifestyle. There was nothing lavish, but having more money than your mates from a career that creates a great deal of spare time led in only one direction. "I didn't really want to miss out on going out and enjoying myself. I was living how a typical lad lives. I was always the unfittest lad by a mile. I just thought 'that's me, this is who I am, this is what I am always going to be."

The move to St Mary's changed all that, as Lambert realised that he had the talent to succeed and, in Southampton, the perfect vehicle for success. He lost weight and gained fitness. The lower league footballing joker had become a committed professional and both player and club saw the benefits.

There is humility, too. Whilst his admirers are pushing forward his international chances, Lambert instead chooses to remain coy on the issue: "It would mean everything to me but it's definitely not what I'm thinking about at all," was Lambert's chosen reply. Compare this to Holt's "It bugs me, I should have been there in the summer. If they'd gone to the semi-finals, it would have been easier to take." If you prefer the second statement (and Holt said this only last week, amid a desperately poor season) then I'm afraid we can't be friends.

And so finally, as with every story, we have our moral. The example has been set to lower league players that the Premier League is not the impossible dream once you reach 25. If you possess the requisite talent and work hard, professionalism and humility can be enough to succeed in a league that doesn't often embrace true fairy tales.

Too much is placed on the importance of an international call up in the modern age of 23-man match-day squads named for meaningless friendlies. Sixty-one players have been called up by England since the beginning of last season (including Jake Livermore, Jonjo Shelvey and Fraizer Campbell), which is a frighteningly high number.

So forget the idea of an England call-up completing Lambert's incredible rise, because his story has already been written. And it's well worth the read.

Daniel Storey - he's on Twitter.

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