Football: Lambert revels in role of fast-forward finisher

Nicholas Harling on the Scottish midfielder (left) who has rewarded Dortmund's faith with stirring displays
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The Independent Online
If the tartan hordes have felt slightly excluded from recent momentous Anglo-Teutonic encounters, then one lone Scot will, at least, feel grateful for his involvement in the next one. And should Paul Lambert get his laces in a tangle as he ties his boots before facing Manchester United next month, he could be forgiven for finding himself in a pre-match trance. For, of the players participating in the European Cup semi-finals, the tale of the 27-year-old Scottish midfielder must be the most extraordinary.

Last summer Lambert was in Glasgow anticipating no more than another season with Motherwell. Like any other ambitious Scot, out of contract and at liberty to move on in the wake of the Bosman ruling, he was alive to the possibilities of furthering his career in England, perhaps, or even the Continent. But with Borussia Dortmund? Hardly. Yet when the call came, it was not from England or Hearts, Hibs, Aberdeen or Dundee. It was from the heart of the Ruhr, from the Westfalenstadion, home of the twice-running German champions, who, unknown to Lambert, had had him under scrutiny.

"It was like a bolt of lightning," Lambert recalled as he savoured the glow of his new club's advance to the last four for the first time and that meeting with United. Although he has never met Alex Ferguson, Lambert is well acquainted with the United manager's brother, Martin, his coach at St Mirren before the move across Glasgow. "From what I'm told Martin is very similar to Alex," Lambert said. "They both work the same way."

German clubs are renowned for their scouting networks but, with all respect to Lambert, who has appeared only twice for Scotland, why did he come to the notice of Ottmar Hitzfeld, the Dortmund coach? "I just don't know," he replied, "it's unbelieveable. Last season I was at Motherwell. Now I'm looking forward to facing a club of United's reputation in what must be the biggest game of my career."

Invited on trial, Lambert made a quick impression, for he not only started the season but actually scored in his first game, a 4-2 defeat at Bayer Leverkusen. On target again in the European Cup against Widzew Lodz, he has confirmed a knack for getting forward to good effect.

Yet in the first leg against United, wherever that may be - we will know after today's draw in Lausanne - Dortmund may be looking more to Lambert's defensive qualities. The booking in Auxerre of Matthias Sammer, which followed a previous yellow card received against Steaua Bucharest, means that the European Footballer of the Year will miss the first leg against United. Although another outstanding defender, Stefan Reuter, will be back from suspension, the absence of Sammer, especially if it is at Old Trafford, will thrust extra defensive responsibility on midfielders such as Lambert.

"Obviously we will miss Sammer. Anyone would miss him," Lambert said. On the evidence of events in Abbe-Deschamps Stadium, the game at Old Trafford may be no classic. Away from home, away from the deafening noise that tumbles down the Westfalenstadion terraces, Dortmund are patently reluctant to attack. Stephane Chapuisat and Karlheinz Riedle are often isolated figures up front, reinforced usually only when the likes of Andreas Moller and Lambert take it upon themselves to go forward too.

But it is not as if Dortmund will be inhibited by Old Trafford. "I've never played there but many of the players were in the German team that appeared there for Euro 96," Lambert pointed out. "They know what it's like."

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