When Rickie Lambert took to the field 12 years ago for Macclesfield Town against a star-studded West Ham side, a World Cup call-up and Liverpool transfer would have seemed light years away.
Lambert, who signed for the Anfield club yesterday, 17 years after they released him as a kid, was a 19-year-old in a Macclesfield side that played in an FA Cup tie back in January 2002.
The youngster came face-to-face with then England World Cup trio of David James, Joe Cole and Trevor Sinclair.
Jermain Defoe, also 19, scored twice that day for the Hammers but little did he know that Lambert would end up booting him out of this year’s England squad for Brazil.
In that match, Lambert was the biggest threat to the Premier League club, forcing a save from James before hitting the woodwork from one of his trademark free-kicks.
Even then few people would have predicted his rise to the top, apart from the manager who first put his faith in the striker by signing him.
Prescott, now a renowned talent spotter credited with finding the likes of Swansea’s Ashley Williams, is delighted that Lambert has gone on to achieve great success in football.
“He is a strange case. We originally brought him in on trial after he was released by Blackpool. He had been working to support himself following his release but he had not kept himself as fit as he could have,” Prescott told MM.
“We knew that he had the ability though. He was well liked at Macclesfield. He was not a noisy, boisterous person and I am really proud of him and what he has achieved.”
Lambert made his Silkmen debut in a 2-1 home defeat against Chesterfield in March 2001 but it was the following full season where he made a real impact, scoring 10 goals to show a glimpse of the future.
Town supporters will fondly remember Lambert’s hat-trick against Luton Town in November 2001, the highlight of his season in what turned out to be a mixed campaign for the club where they finished in mid-table.
Prescott said Lambert’s technical ability was always evident, particularly in matches and on the training ground.
“Though he played up front, he was regularly used in the centre of midfield,” he said.
“The awareness was always in his long-distance passing, and his ability level is something that you cannot beat. He always had a really powerful right foot.
“I admire him and he has stuck to his values and goals and that, for me, is absolutely vital in football. It is always about being in the right place at the right time.”
Lambert would end up leaving the club at the end of the season in April 2002 when a £300,000 deal took him to nearby Stockport County, at the time in the division above.
Rocky times followed for Lambert, who was released by County before another Greater Manchester club in Rochdale picked him up.
Now on another planet after his England call-up and Liverpool transfer, Prescott believes Lambert will be an important player for Roy Hodgson should the national manager decide to use him.
“I think he could be absolutely crucial for England because he is a different kind of player to the other strikers that we have in the squad.
“He is a very physical player and he is very strong. That could be useful.”
Main image courtesy of LFC MEdia via YouTube, with thanks.