Pardew ready to toast Lambert this summer after weaning Southampton striker off his 'pint and pie' diet (From The Advertiser Series)
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Pardew ready to toast Lambert this summer after weaning Southampton striker off his 'pint and pie' diet
ALAN PARDEW will encounter one of the “best strikers” he has ever worked with this afternoon – and having successfully weaned Rickie Lambert off his 'pint and pie' diet, the Newcastle manager is hoping to raise a toast to the Southampton striker during this summer's World Cup finals.
During his time as Southampton boss, Pardew shelled out £1m to sign Lambert from League One Bristol Rovers following his own side's relegation from the Championship.
Eyebrows were raised at such a large sum being spent in the third tier of the game, but after scoring on his Saints debut, Lambert went on to score 36 goals in his maiden season at St Mary's, a tally that made him the highest scorer in English football's top four divisions for the second year in a row.
Since then, the 31-year-old has gone from strength to strength, firing Southampton back to the Premier League and scoring on his England debut against Scotland earlier this year.
He is a strong contender for a place in Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad, and while Pardew was always convinced of Lambert's ability, even he has been surprised by just how quickly the striker has progressed.
“He was always a natural goalscorer,” said Pardew. “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's the best striker I have worked with, and I've worked with a few good 'uns. He is right up there is terms of technical ability.
“In a way, I see bits of myself as a player in him. I began my professional career at 26, so I thought in a way it had passed me by, but it arrived. I then had a fantastic run.
“What I did 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, but I always believe in players that it is never over, and you are still improving at 26 or 27. And he certainly did improve.
“His technical ability was always immense though. He always had great technical ability, that's why he was initially a midfield player.”
Lambert failed to make the grade as a trainee at Liverpool, and trudged around the lower leagues with Blackpool, Macclesfield, Stockport, Rochdale and Bristol Rovers before moving on to Southampton.
In many ways, his story is a throwback to the days when academies were still in their infancy and the Football League was seen as a viable breeding ground for top-flight talent.
Today, it is exceptionally rare for players to emerge from Leagues One or Two at a late stage in their career, but Pardew has hinted that Lambert might have risen through the ranks much earlier had his lifestyle not also reflected attitudes that have gone out fashion.
“I think he would admit himself that perhaps his lifestyle let him down a little bit,” said Pardew. “He liked a pint and a pie. I don't think he would be embarrassed by me saying that.
“I had a couple of long chats with him about it. I remember when he arrived, I said, 'I've just paid £1m for you. I've put my neck on the line a little bit here at this level – you'd better get that in order'. But the player still needs to do it, and he has done terrific.”
A more focused and disciplined Lambert now finds himself eyeing a World Cup debut in Brazil, and while the striker has cut back on his socialising, Pardew is looking forward to raising a glass in his honour next summer.
“I never thought he would play for England,” he said. “But I would certainly have a glass of beer and be toasting him (if he played in Brazil). Especially if he scored – I would be jumping around the room. He is out of their (Southampton) team at the minute, and I am pleased about that.”
It remains to be seen whether Saints boss Mauricio Pochettino opts to recall Lambert ahead of Dani Osvaldo for this afternoon's trip to St James' Park.
Pochettino replaced Nigel Adkins in January, and like Adkins, Pardew was also unexpectedly dismissed after guiding Southampton into a position of strength.
In August 2010, Pardew was sacked by chairman Nicola Cortese just two days after his side had trounced Bristol Rovers 4-0, and the manner of his departure clearly still rankles.
“I felt it was an injustice to lose my job there, but I won't be the first manager to say that,” he said. “I always felt it was not a footballing decision.
“Nobody could argue with my record. The fans and players were all with me, so it was an issue made above me and there was nothing I could do about that.
“We are all very vulnerable. I've been here (Newcastle) for three years, and I was vulnerable on day one and I'm still vulnerable today.”
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