Liverpool have made their first signing of the summer after confirming striker Rickie Lambert has completed his move from Southampton. The 32-year-old, currently out in Miami with England's FIFA World Cup™ squad, underwent a medical on Saturday after a fee of £4m was agreed with the Saints.
Lambert is understood to have signed a two-year deal with the club who released him as a 15-year-old. Born in Kirkby, Merseyside, Lambert was a member of Liverpool's academy until his mid-teens, after which he found himself playing in the lower leagues for the likes of Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before finding success at Southampton.
He will provide some much-needed back-up to frontline strikers Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge and while he may have to content himself with a supporting role from the bench at Anfield the chance to rejoin his boyhood club and play in the UEFA Champions League was an opportunity he did not want to miss.
"I can't believe it. I've loved this club all my life. I left here 17 years ago - and I haven't stopped loving it since," Lambert told his new club's official website. "I have always dreamt of playing for Liverpool, but I did kind of think the chance of playing for them had gone. I didn't think the chance would come.
"I know how big Liverpool are - and it means everything to me - but I know what is important; I know it's what I do on the pitch and the minutes I play. I know that's what matters, and that's what I'll be focused on."
Lambert's arrival at Anfield came as a surprise, especially considering manager Brendan Rodgers had previously off-loaded another player considered a target man in Andy Carroll early on in his tenure. However, the Reds boss believes Lambert is a different kind of player and is confident he can fit in to the system while also providing a different option if required.
"I've seen Rickie Lambert over the years and he's one of those players that probably never got the recognition for what a really good footballer he is," Rodgers said. "It's only late on in his career - at 29, 30, 31 - that people are really starting to focus on his qualities. He was probably seen as the traditional big number nine, a British striker that is good in the air. But he's one of the most accomplished footballers I've seen.
"It has been so refreshing that he's got his call into the England team, and he certainly hasn't let anyone down - he has been outstanding. Look at his touch, look at the level of his goals, the different types of goals he has scored over his career, and he's a specialist on penalties as well. I think he is a terrific footballer and any team he plays against, he's always a handful."
Lambert spent five years at Southampton, scoring 106 goals in 207 appearances, and enjoyed considerable success as they earned promotion to the English Premier League. On his departure he wrote an open letter, published on the club's website, to fans to say thank you.
"What can I say? Southampton has been my life for the past five years, in which we have achieved all of our dreams and more," he wrote. "First I have to thank Markus Liebherr for saving Southampton then Alan Pardew for bringing me to the club. Thank you to all the staff involved in making me the player I am today: without your knowledge and commitment I would not be here right now at a World Cup with England.
"Thank you to all the players, past and present, who I have had nothing but good times and success with driven by our club captain, Kelvin Davis. I love every last one of you. Thank you to the managers I have worked with - Alan, Nigel (Adkins) and Mauricio (Pochettino) - and their teams for helping me and Southampton step up and adapt to every challenge that has come our way the past five years.
"When I grew up there was only one club I loved. I can honestly say now I have two clubs which will always be in my heart and that is thanks to the Saints fans. The people who support this club have been nothing short of amazing towards me and, when I look back in years to come, it will be the relationship I had with the fans here which will stand out the most.
"Southampton have allowed me to realise a lifelong ambition by joining Liverpool and taking my family home. The five-year plan when I arrived was to get this club from League One to the top half of the Premier League. Against all the odds we have achieved that.
"Now, under Katharina Liebherr's leadership, the club has the chance for new plan, a new chapter, and I wish them all the success in the world."