Lambert living his very own dream
Published 07/06/2014 | 22:47
Three years ago Rickie Lambert dreamt of swapping lives with Steven Gerrard - now he is playing alongside his idol for club and country.
It has been quite the journey from the lower leagues to today, having this week joined boyhood club Liverpool before linking-up with England for the World Cup.
Remarkably, Lambert was plying his trade in League One for Southampton as recently as 2011, when he was asked in an interview who he would trade places with, given the choice of anyone living or dead.
"I would have to say Steven Gerrard," came the swift response. "He lives through all the dreams I had as a kid. Everything I wanted to do he has actually done, so I would have to say him."
Reminded of that question he recalled the answer immediately, although this time he called him 'Stevie G' - a sign of the friendship that has built with the England captain since getting his first cap earlier this season.
"It is quite the journey," Lambert said, smiling. "The way it has gathered momentum, it's frightening.
"Everything went our way at Southampton and each manager that came in improved me massively, especially Mauricio Pochettino. He taught me how to be a different kind of player and I think that's helping now.
"It is full credit to so many people. It's hard to say thanks to everyone involved because there has been a lot of work gone on to make me who I am today and the player I am today. That's mainly everyone at Southampton, from fitness to coaches to everyone."
Lambert is a rare player in the modern era that fans can empathise with, having held a normal job not so long ago and made his support for Liverpool well-known.
He was at Anfield for every Champions League game during the 2005 season and got a Liver Bird tattoo on his shoulder after the famous win in Istanbul.
Lambert, though, is keen not to "come across as a mad fan" and believes he can get even better at Liverpool, despite now being 32 years of age.
"I wasn't expecting a chance at Liverpool but I have got it," he said.
"Now that I've got it I will do everything to not let it go and I am more than confident that I will take the chance and I will be able to improve my game again. I've done that every season.
"I'm going to get fitter. I'm going to do everything I can to get onto the next level now.
"Even though I'm 32 I feel like a kid again. I've got so much enthusiasm for the game.
"The fact that I'm playing under Brendan Rodgers and for Liverpool I just can't wait.
"It could have come earlier in my career - if it had I don't think I would be performing at the level I am now. I might have missed the chance.
"This is a good time because I am mentally and physically ready. If it doesn't work out now there are no excuses.
"I have done everything I can to get to this point. I wasn't expecting a chance to play for Liverpool but now I've got it I'll be trying my best to deliver."
That determined mentality was coaxed out of Lambert at Southampton, where former manager Pochettino employed some unusual methods.
Pre-season is notoriously hard under the former Argentina international, who not only got his players running but also walking on hot coals
"That was the easy part," Lambert said with a laugh. "That was a relaxing afternoon.
"He took us away for 18 days and it was all very specific. It wasn't just like run to a tree and back, it was very well organised.
"On the coals he got some fella in to try and give you that winning mentality. It was very interesting.
"One of his methods was to walk across burning coal bare footed. It was a challenge, mind over matter. You knew nothing worse could happen to you during the season."