By: Harshit Bassi
As soon as the news was broken by all the prominent media houses across the UK, it’s fair to say that there were a few raised eyebrows and more than a few WTF expressions. On the back of a season they didn’t themselves expect to have, expectations from the club rose exponentially, to go out and make a statement of intent with a couple of “marquee” signings after long drawn bidding wars to provide a sense of achievement off the pitch as well, and Rickie Lambert, a 32 year old with a majority of his career in the lower leagues, was never thought to be a part of it, even in the most desperate situation. Yet, on a closer analysis, it all makes perfect sense for the club and of course, Lambert himself.
One of the most cliché yet true arguments we hear are the need for experienced squad members at the top of the pitch for a squad bubbling with the exciting pace of the youth. With enigma and enthusiasm of a youth, there also lies vulnerability of succumbing to the glamorous life of a rising star and a growing sense of arrogance that accompanies it. Luis Suarez, discounting a phrase full of superlatives for his performances on the pitch, is not exactly a role model for discipline and Daniel Sturridge, despite his form is less of a team player as compared to his attacking counterparts. In such a situation, Rickie Lambert provides for the perfect solution. A scoring record in double digits, a similar assists record, and 2 yellow cards in 37 games in the year gone by, is a formidable record on all fronts. Not only is he an expert at the technique of finishing, he often falls back as a “false 9” and provides the team with an adept range of passing out to the flanks or final balls for players making runs from deep within the midfield, a fact justified by his terrific assists record. Moreover, his range of goals is no less than any other world class striker. From headers, free kicks, shots from range, finesse shots from inside the box, and finally penalties (a penalty record which includes 2 penalties missed in his entire career), you name it, and you’ll easily be able to find a video on YouTube. With all these qualities, and the threat of much maligned aerial presence (Liverpool paid 35 million JUST for that, who can forget), it’s fair to say that he is the, almost hypothetical, “big English No. 9”. Although Liverpool’s scoring record last season doesn’t justify the need of any kind of striker, we often saw the vulnerabilities of the youth exposed, with poor decision making by Sturridge and Sterling, the ability to find solutions to parked buses (we all know what we’re talking about here) amongst a few. In such a situation, a vastly experienced player solves the dilemma and Lambert with a huge skill set to go with it is indeed the right option. An engine of the team, a driver of the attacking force for years, Lambert, when brought off the bench can easily answer all these questions with a composure that no one in the attacking line can provide. No one, including Lambert himself, expects him to start but when the youngsters of our squad, find themselves in a fix, he provides much more than just an able backup.
Now that we’re at the topic of substitutions, we often saw that the best option we had on the bench was Iago Aspas, a player whose unparalleled lack of skill coupled with lack of experience, game time and a bunch of nerves was exposed when he took an atrocious corner right at the death against Chelsea, which not only failed to find a team member but also gave a very generous ball to Willian, who all but handed Manchester City the title. Any comparison of such a player will be an insult to his talent who provides an equally strong third option in attack, an option almost non-existent last year. While we can argue Fabio Borini’s case here, who returns on the back of a much improved season with Sunderland, but he surely lacks the experience Lambert possesses for a third striker (as emphasized earlier) and it’s also fair to say that of the two seasons both the players have played in the Premier League, there are no two ways about who the better player has been.
Finally, bringing in the emotional side, Liverpool as a club, loves a Kopite. Lambert’s love affair with the club ended very abruptly in its first spell and after having seen it all in his career, including a stint at a beetroot factory to make ends meet, he for sure won’t let the chance go at the second time of asking, as is evident in his very first interview after signing for the club. In the past, we have had Craig Bellamy, a lifelong Liverpool fan, play for the club who proved quite a bargain in both his stints at the club. His presence was epitomized by a goal at the Nou Camp against Barcelona in 2007 in the Champions League, at the height of their powers, which helped knock them out of the competition. As for concerns about Lambert’s age (32), the name of Gary McAllister comes to mind, who signed for Liverpool at the age of 35 and his two year stint is remembered as no less than a fairytale with a magical last minute free kick in the Merseyside derby helped him etch his name in the Kop hearts forever. Talent and skill knows no age, and a fee of a mere 4 million for a player still very much at the height of his powers, can only brag about their negotiation skills. In Rickie Lambert, the club is signing a true fan, a face in the Kop, and what he lacks in his game, he is sure to make up for it with his passion and his love for his boyhood club, which is sure to make him the prodigal son of Liverpool Football Club.