Rickie Lambert, preparing for Friday night’s England first pre-World Cup friendly with Peru, is on the brink of signing for Liverpool in a deal worth £4m plus add-ons, with the striker understood to be desperate to join his hometown team, who rejected him as a 15-year-old.
Lambert is expected on Merseyside for a medical on Saturday, a mere 48 hours after the Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers’ desire to sign the 32-year-old led the Anfield club to open talks with Southampton.
Lambert would not be a first choice if striker, as Liverpool expect, Luis Suarez is still around to lead the line with Daniel Sturridge as the club return to the Champions League. But his signing would provide an alternative way of Rodgers’ side breaking down teams next season and the forward is ready to back his ability to flourish.
Rodgers is understood to feel that the presence of a big target man would be a strong addition to his side, whose failure to break down Chelsea at the death, last season, contributed significantly to them losing the title to Manchester City.
Though Liverpool are finding Southampton as difficult to conclude a deal with on Adam Lallana as they and the player had feared, Lambert’s fervent desire to leave for Anfield is based on his Merseyside upbringing. He was born and raised in Kirkby and was with Liverpool’s Academy from the age of ten, before director Steve Heighway told him, at the age of 15, that he would not make the grade. “I never hold any grudges. These things either make or break you,” Lambert reflected recently. “At the time he (Heighway)was quite right to let me go. I wasn't good enough. I thought it was the end of the world.” After three subsequent appearances for Blackpool, Lambert was released in 2000 by then manager Steve McMahon.
Meanwhile, the England captain, Steven Gerrard, last night brushed off Paul Scholes’ criticisms of Wayne Rooney, suggesting the forward had been Manchester United’s best player throughout the recent season, and will head to the World Cup in Brazil in much better shape mentally Gerrard: Scholes is wrong – Rooney is not past his peak and physically than in South Africa four years ago.
The Liverpool captain leapt to Rooney’s defence ahead of tonight’s Peru match at Wembley, the first of England’s three warm-up games.
Scholes, brought back to United as a coach for the last four games of the season, said last week that Rooney was past his peak. “I do have an opinion and I think Paul Scholes was wrong,” said Gerrard, who is expected to lead a strong line-up for the last game before England depart for their Miami training camp.
“He has been United’s best player in the league and in Europe. I think Wayne Rooney has been in terrific form. From what I have seen, his performances for Manchester United have been really positive and he’s worked hard this week. He decided to do his own week’s training and he seems in an awfully better frame of mind going into this tournament than when he’s had injuries on his mind last time. I am excited where Wayne Rooney’s at.”
Scholes also said Roy Hodgson did not have the “balls” to drop Rooney if the striker was not playing well, a notion rejected by the England manager, who then refused to be drawn any further on what Scholes had said. “There are going to be lots of opinions but… the opinions that matter are ours,” said Hodgson.
Tonight’s starting XI is expected to be similar to the one deployed in qualifying. Hodgson will then use the two games in Miami next week, against Ecuador and Honduras, to experiment ahead of the opening World Cup game against Italy on 14 June.
Hodgson admitted that such was the focus on this game in Manaus that he had given little thought to tonight’s opponents, but accepts the fact that Wembley will be close to a sell-outputs an onus on England to set off for the World Cup on a high.
However, Hodgson claims to still be some way short of settling on his side for the Italy game. “The real evidence is games,” he said. “Training is important but it would be unusual for managers to pick teams on training performances. The games are going to tell us a lot... [and be very useful for me when it comes to picking the final XI for the first game. I shall be trying to give players as many opportunities to stake their claim and then I’ll make my decision.
I would defy anyone to second-guess my first XI at the moment.”