Why the classic British striker still has a place in the game
Amongst the galaxy of expensively acquired striking talent that adorns the Premier League’s top scorers list this season, there is of course one very English and extremely notable anomaly.
Indeed, while the £50million talents of Fernando Torres and the £35million services of Sergio Aguero all cohabit the league’s chart of top marksman, it’s the £1million gifts of Southampton’s Rickie Lambert, who’s outscored them both.
With nine Premier League goals so far this season, the Saints’ 30-year-old frontman has blown away those who doubted his ability to cut it at the very highest level of the English footballing pyramid, helping coax his side away from the immediate threat of relegation and putting daylight between themselves and their fellow contenders for the drop,
Although while Lambert’s journey from the old Division Three all the way up to English football’s top tier was a story that was always likely to trigger common interest under the Premier League’s increased media glare, there seemed a strange sense of expectation surrounding the ex-Bristol Rovers man’s prospects.
Because while those who’d watched in awe as Lambert’s goals had helped haul Southampton up to successive promotions were in no doubt as to his ability to prosper within the Premier League, they seemingly weren’t the only ones, either. Little has been made in the way of a song and dance towards Lambert’s goal-scoring prowess, despite there being less than half the season left to play and the wealth of talent deemed superior, that he’s comfortably outscored.
And perhaps in many ways, this is one of the biggest compliments English football could possibly pay to one of its most seasoned underdogs. Following the success of Norwich City’s Grant Holt last term, while few could necessarily guarantee Lambert success in the trappings of the Premier League, it seems as though people have begun putting to bed their tired stereotypes aged clichés about lower-league talents being able to dine at English football’s elite table.
While playing a slightly altered role under Chris Hughton this season has seen Holt struggle to replicate the form that saw him bury 15 goals for the Canaries last season, it was within those goals that propelled the Carlisle-born striker into an unlikely bit of transfer window hot property last summer. Quite the achievement for a 31-year-old striker who’d spent the bulk of his career scrapping around the lower leagues of English football.
Norwich were a team, very much like Southampton have done this term, that kept faith in the majority of their players that helped them attain such success in the first place. Like Lambert, Holt was there from the very beginning of Norwich’s recent renaissance, challenging for League One promotion all the way up to Premier League safety. But unlike a majority of his teammates, Holt appeared to face a rather more chastising barrage of uncertainty over the influence he might wield in the top flight,
In the age of mobile, versatile front men and false nines, both Holt and Lambert represent a dying breed. While it’d be lazy to depict the duo as identical in style – Lambert is perhaps the more technically accomplished of the two, with Holt offering a more direct outlet of play – both seem to fit into a mould of play detached from the perceived Premier League remit for a modern-day frontman.
They aren’t blessed with searing pace, neither particularly accommodate for much in the way of tactical versatility and you’re not going to see neither Holt nor Lambert dribble past a wealth of defenders this term. But while neither are going to be playing tiki-taka like football anytime soon, they will continue to keep scoring goals.
It’s unlikely that either Holt nor Lambert – who are in fact good mates following a year as strike partners for Rochdale in 2005 – care much in the way of negative perceptions thrown their way, but while less of us are perhaps surprised by Lambert’s ability to score goals in this league, it seems somewhat intriguing that sections of English football find it so hard to buy into the ability of the archetypal British forward’s ability to survive in the modern game.
Holt and Lambert don’t have the gifts that many managers in the game today are looking to build their game around and this isn’t to say that teams pushing for European football need to start throwing money at Norwich and Southampton for their polished gems. But Lambert, like Holt, scored over 20 goals for three consecutive seasons before his step up to the Premier League.
Despite the leagues they were playing in, you hardly had to watch the pair week in-week out to come to the conclusion they were both natural goalscorers entering their prime years as a footballer. No one expects them to necessarily score 20 plus in the top flight, but why is it so difficult to believe strikers such as Holt and Lambert can’t prosper in the Premier League?
If you’re trying to engineer a Brendan Rodgers-like ascent up the Premier League table, then putting your faith in a Rickie Lambert like figure isn’t likely to serve your means particularly well. But if you’re looking for a goalscorer and you’re willing to play to their instinctive strengths, you could do a lot worse than dropping down a tier to do a spot of scouting.
Not all forwards from the Championship or beyond will make the step up to the Premier League in the mould of a Grant Holt or Rickie Lambert. But as Queens Park Rangers look to have paid around £8million and in excess of £70,000-a-week in wages for a goalscorer yet to net a single league goal in the French top flight this season, it makes you wonder whether the likes of Burnley’s Charlie Austin will have to wait as long as Lambert did for his top-flight chance. Yet there’s no reason why he should do.