Saints chairman Ralph Krueger says Rickie Lambert will “forever remain an icon in the history of the club”.
The striker completed his dream transfer to Liverpool yesterday, signing a two-year contract at Anfield, and ending a glittering five-year stay at St Mary’s.
Saints will receive a fee approaching £5m for the England international, plus add-ons, although some of that will go to his former club, Bristol Rovers, who possess a 20 per cent sell-on clause.
Krueger, pictured below, paid tribute to the 32-year-old, who scored 117 goals in 235 appearances for Saints after his £1m arrival in 2009.
“On behalf of the club, I would like to thank Rickie,” he said.
“He served with distinction and helped to take Saints from League One to the Premier League. “Rickie has been a shining light in Saints’ growth and will forever remain an icon in the history of the club.
“He leaves with the best wishes of everyone at Southampton and will always be welcome back at St Mary’s.”
Lambert’s departure was a reluctant one for Saints, who felt they could not stand in the way of him completing a fairytale move to the team he has supported since he was a boy.
A statement from the club added: “It will be a big challenge to replace him and our intention is to source a quality replacement who will fill his shoes now, but also for many years to come.”
The player himself issued an open letter to everyone at Saints, thanking them for all their help and support and wishing them great success in the future.
A range of people were mentioned, including Markus Liebherr, Alan Pardew, Nigel Adkins and Mauricio Pochettino, although former chairman Nicola Cortese did not make the cut.
After completing his move to Liverpool, Lambert said: “I can't believe it. I’ve loved this club all my life. I left here 17 years ago and I haven’t stopped loving it since.
“I have always dreamt of playing for Liverpool, but I did kind of think the chance of playing for them had gone. I didn’t think the chance would come.
“I know how big Liverpool are, and it means everything to me, but I know what is important; I know it’s what I do on the pitch and the minutes I play.
“I know that’s what matters, and that’s what I'll be focused on.”
Lambert will link up with Liverpool after returning from the World Cup with England.