How Alan Pardew helped Rickie Lambert go from a life of pies to the full monty

Throughout his football career Rickie Lambert has been under-estimated, but working under Alan Pardew was the making of him

Southampton's Rickie Lambert
Southampton's Rickie Lambert

If Rickie Lambert scores the winning goal for Southampton today, Newcastle United will have Alan Pardew to blame.

Lambert is just one of a series of players who will line up against his team at St James’ Park this afternoon to have worked under Pardew.

That they have continued to flourish long after his controversial 2010 departure shows they must take a fair share of the credit too, but there is no doubt the Magpies’ manager played a big part in Lambert’s late blooming.

When Pardew’s Southampton, then a very big fish in the small pond of League One, paid £1m for him, Lambert was a journeyman lower-league striker.

Next summer there is every chance he could be at the Brazil World Cup.

It is quite a transformation for a player who apparently showed more hunger for pies than football in his early days.

Those “early days” were long and drawn out.

Lambert was a 27-year-old whose career had taken him to Blackpool, Macclesfield Town, Stockport County, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers when Pardew gave him his big break and a hefty kick up the backside.

Lambert had shown his qualities with the Pirates, scoring 51 goals in 128 appearances as they moved from League Two to One.

Back then he looked like one of those strikers who had an eye for goal but not enough else to progress up the league ladder.

Even when he made his Premier League debut last season, some were doubting if he had top-flight quality. Not any more.

Pardew says of the Merseysider: “I think he would admit perhaps his lifestyle let him down a little bit and he liked a pint and a pie.

“I don’t think he would be embarrassed by me saying that.

“I had two long chats with him about it.

“I remember when he arrived and saying, ‘I’ve just paid £1m for you, I’ve put my neck on the line a little bit here at this level, you better get that in order’.

“However, the player still needs to do it and he has done terrific.

“Coming to a bigger club, he came to Southampton and we had a good sports science team.

“I’m not sure he was getting perhaps the right guidance and maybe there were people who were a bit loose round him.

“He certainly looks a meaner, finer-looking specimen now as a player than he did even when he was with me.” If being a £1m striker was the kick Lambert needed, he faces another challenge this season after the £15m signing of Pablo Osvaldo turned him from guaranteed regular to in-and-out player.

With Mauricio Pochettino preferring one centre-forward more often than not, he is still to win that battle but has become an international footballer in the process.

Pardew recalled: “I think it actually dawned on him when there were rumours he was going to get a transfer (to Southampton).

“I had to persuade him, because Championship clubs were talking about him, and I kept him in League One.

“He realised that £1m for a club like Southampton was serious business now, it wasn’t messing about.

“I’m not saying he messed about at Bristol Rovers but it does sort of knock you a little bit.

“Like a manager coming into Newcastle, you are going to have be on your toes and I think he did that.”

Pardew saw something of himself in Lambert.

His professional career got off to a late start, having played non-league football while working as a glazier in his early 20s. Once Pardew got going, he became an integral member of the Crystal Palace side which reached the 1990 FA Cup final and finished third in Division One the next season. Pardew added: “I began my professional career at 26, 27, so I thought in a way it had passed me by but it arrived. I then had a fantastic run.

“What I have done has been totally outshone by what Rickie has done in terms of playing for England and I think he will go to the World Cup.

“I would certainly have a glass of beer and be toasting him if he did. Especially if he scored – I would be jumping around the room.

“I always believe in players it is never over and you are still improving at 26, 27. He certainly did improve.

“His technical ability was immense. He always had great technical ability, that’s why he was a midfield player.

“I never thought he would play for England (it took less than three minutes for Lambert to score on his international debut against Scotland), but I did say to him about the Premier League.

“I had managed in the Premier League. I had seen Bobby Zamora, Marlon Harewood, Teddy Sheringham at that time, Carlos Tevez, Dean Ashton, and I thought he could have played in my West Ham team even then.

“He was a natural goalscorer. When I scouted him, left foot, right foot, heading – there wasn’t any weakness.

“He’s the closest player I’ve had to Dean Ashton, who is the best striker I have worked with – and I’ve worked with a few good ‘uns.

“He is up there in terms of technical ability.”


David Whetstone
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