Lambert goes back to roots of his intensity

Scottish playmaker has much to thank Germany for
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Paul Lambert knew the tune when he heard it seven summers ago, it was just the words that were unfamiliar. One voice out on Borussia Dortmund's training pitch had hijacked "Football's Coming Home" and given it a German translation.

The Scot, who had spent the previous few weeks watching Euro 96 on television, knew exactly who the culprit was: Andy Möller, the man who killed England's dream in the penalty shootout at Wembley. On Wednesday, Lambert is going "home" but this time he hopes Germany has nothing to smile about.

It could not have been scripted better for the 34-year-old, who came out of international retirement to help Berti Vogts. A return to the Westfalenstadion, where he was transformed from the man with no fame into a Champions' League winner.

Lambert's story is such a football fairytale that it never fails to capture attention. Out of contract at Motherwell, the midfielder received a call from Borussia Dortmund to come for a trial. Just 10 months later, he was standing with a medal around his neck after marking the then Juventus icon, Zinedine Zidane, out of the final.

When Lambert left to join Celtic the following season, he was given a lap of honour and heard "You'll Never Walk Alone" cascade down from the Westfalenstadion's giant stands. The love affair has endured. Dortmund fans come to Glasgow to watch him play, now Scotland's captain will be back on his hallowed turf hoping to wrest control of Group Five from Rudi Völler's side to keep Scotland's Euro 2004 ambitions alive.

"It was the most nerve-racking moment of my life the day I walked into Dortmund's training camp for the first time," recalls Lambert. "A lot of the guys had been at Euro 96 with the German side and were quite high. Andy Möller was singing that song 'It's Coming Home'. They hadn't a clue who I was. I was just a skinny kid no one had heard of and I thought 'my God, how do I fit in here?' But everyone welcomed me, they could not have been better. I had to prove I could handle myself in their company. I think Dortmund remembered me from the Uefa Cup tie with Motherwell from the season before, but then Steffen Freund got injured, I got a place in the side and it snowballed all the way to the Champions' League final."

Sometimes special places from the past seem smaller when they are revisited, but for Lambert the opposite is true. The Westfalenstadion now holds 73,000 instead of the 50,000 it did in his time. "I've been back a few times - though never to play - and the fans have always been good to me," he said. "They remember the side that brought the European Cup back to the city. There were 250,000 on the streets when we brought the trophy home and it was something I will never forget.

"This will be the first international Germany has staged there since the stadium has been developed. It was always an intimidating place. There's no track so the crowd are right on top of you. Our young guys will see what a football stadium is all about." Lambert failed a late test for yesterday's game against the Faroes but is confident about his fitness for Germany.

The Scot is passionate about playing for his country. He was tempted back by Vogts and agreed to see it to the end of the Euro 2004 road. "Berti was a major factor in my decision to come back. I want to see this through and I still think we have a chance of making the play-offs."

That is principally down to the 1-1 draw that Scotland secured when Germany came to Hampden Park in June. Lambert was imperious that day, leaving none other than Michael Ballack in the shade. The German media were incredulous - they remembered Lambert the cautious holding player, not the aggressive, probing passer.

The Scotland captain credits Germany with unearthing the real player within. "They are so professional in what they do and think," he says. "I remember at Motherwell, we were wary of going in too hard in tackles in training games. At Dortmund, they didn't mess about. It was intense every day. I take that philosophy with me everywhere now."