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Rickie's England future: Matt Le Tissier gives his verdict
HE announced his arrival on the i n t e r n a t i o n a l scene in fairytale fashion this week – but the Saints striker Rickie Lambert now faces the daunting challenge of trying to retain his place in the England squad.
Lambert has been the toast of the nation for the past few days, after scoring the winner in Wednesday’s 3-2 win over Scotland at Wembley, with his first-ever touch for his country.
It was a moment that could have come straight out of a Roy of the Rovers comic strip, and it capped a remarkable rise for the 31-year-old who, until two years ago, had never played outside the third tier of English football.
But as speculation grows over whether the 31-year-old Southampton star has earned a place in England’s squad attempting to reach the World Cup in Brazil next year, there is more than a touch of déjà vu for Saints fans.
And many will be hoping the prolific goal scorer does not suffer the fate of the player who is considered by many as Southampton’s greatest ever star and England’s lost legend.
In 1998 Southampton favourite Matt Le Tissier looked to have stormed his way into the England squad as it prepared for the World Cup in France that year.
After scoring a hat-trick for the England B team against Russia in a game many saw as a trial, the 30- year-old striker looked certain to have impressed England manager Glenn Hoddle to cement his place in the squad.
“Now Hod Has To Pick Le God” announced the front page of the Southern Daily Echo on Wednesday, April 22, the day after his hat-trick, echoing the hopes and expectations of not just fans, but the whole city.
But it was not to be. In a shock decision, Hoddle did indeed leave Matt out of the England team, a decision that still baffles many today.
Speaking to the Daily Echo after Lambert’s winning goal against Scotland on Wednesday night, Matt recalled the dark days when he came so close to his dream of playing for his country in a world cup.
“The closest I got was 1998, when I had a good end to the season, culminating in the hat-trick in the England B game,” he said.
“It’s not a nice feeling (to be overlooked), and probably when I realised my chances of getting in an England squad were gone, it affected my form for Southampton.
“I never quite reached the same heights when I realised I couldn’t get in the England team anymore.”
Whatever happens from here on though, Lambert will always have that one magical moment to look back on and Le Tissier says that the club should also be proud of what he achieved.
“It was brilliant, and brilliant for the club as well.
“It hopefully gives the club a stronger hand in attracting players and keeping the ones they have got, when you look at Rickie and see he can still make it at international level,” he said.
Lambert will be hoping he can avoid Matt’s fate, and that of Saints winger Danny Wallace, who in 1986 was selected in the squad for a friendly away game to Egypt.
Wallace scored in a 4-0 win, but never gained another cap.
“It would be harsh. Danny Wallace did that – he scored on his debut and that was the only cap he ever got. Hopefully history doesn’t repeat itself,” said Le Tissier.
“His competition for a place in the England squad, for me, probably is Andy Carroll, and I think Rickie’s all-round game is a lot better.”
Le Tissier added: “I’m chuffed to bits for him, it’s absolutely brilliant. When you consider the path his career has taken, it is quite amazing.
“He’s such a down-to-earth guy and he really is one of football’s nice guys, so it is great to have something like that happen to him.”
Lambert is certainly one of the most humble characters in football, and it was clear to see after Wednesday’s game just what the whole experience meant to him.
Picture: Robin Jones/Digital South
“If that’s the only moment I have in an England shirt, I couldn’t have wished for it to be any better,” is how a beaming Lambert described it in the tunnel shortly after the match.
Le Tissier still treasures his first England cap, which came in a friendly at Wembley, against Denmark in 1994.
“It was amazing,” he said. “That’s the culmination of your lifetime’s ambition.
When you get that first call-up, it’s something else.
“It’s real spine-tingling stuff, and the first time you step out on to the pitch at Wembley is really just incredible.
“The feelings going through Rickie when he scored that goal must have been off the chart.”
Le Tissier admits that, as Lambert does not play for one of the established top five or six clubs in England, maintaining a position in Hodgson’s squad will be tough.
“It’s a massive challenge,” said Le Tissier on establishing yourself for England when playing for a club outside of the established elite.
“You have got to be in real tip-top 100 per cent form for your club to keep getting selected. It’s harder, but he’s given himself a perfect opportunity.
“It keeps him in the manager’s thoughts and, if he has a good start to the season, fingers crossed he gets a chance in the qualifiers.
“He wasn’t first choice, and he was only in the squad because of injuries, but he’s taken his chance and given Hodgson something to think about.”
For Rickie Lambert it is now a waiting game, one that Danny Wallace and Matt Le Tissier know only too well.
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