By Rob Shepherd.
To Southampton fans it must seem a bit baffling that Rickie Lambert has already had a more prolific England career than Matt Le Tissier and could end up playing at a World Cup finals.
Even if it was a dour draw in Ukraine, Lambert did his bit tirelessly leading the line to push England further down the road to Rio and with two goals in three internationals is putting up a string case to be in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup plans as a new boy at the advanced years of 31.
By that age Le Tissier’s career for one reason or another had passed him by when he was omitted for the 1998 World Cup finals with eight caps and no goals.
Saints fans often argue there was a prejudice against their hero Le Tiss because he remained loyal to their “unfashionable” club down on the South Coast. Such barriers no longer seem to apply.
And of course there was a time when Southampton was a showbiz club of sorts and the centre of the England team when the England captain was a Saint.
‘A new shirt sponsor perhaps?’ pondered the handful of press guys that were hanging around.
When everyone was sitting comfortably McMenemy pulled back a curtain from behind the stage and out walked Kevin Keegan. The reigning European Football of The Year would be joining Southampton from German club SV Hamburg for the significant sum of £440,000.
Even some of the seasoned hacks – many of whom were close to McMenemy and were often give a nod and wink about news – were taken aback with shock. It was hardly the sort of razzmatazz that now comes with signature signings (as former Saint Gareth Bale had at Madrid) but it was more jaw dropping not least because there had been absolutely no hint of the move until the theatrical unveiling.
It had been assumed that if Keegan returned to England a clause would see him go back to Liverpool. But by then Kenny Dalglish had taken over Keegan’s number 7 shirt and Liverpool didn’t want him back.
When McMenemy got wind of the situation he moved swiftly. And that summer Keegan would lead England at the 1980 European Championship and was an injured skipper at the 1982 World Cup finals.
And for a couple of seasons he was the shaggy haired focal point of a swashbuckling Saints team which included former internationals Alan Ball, Mick Channon, Charlie George and Dave Watson. Watching the Saints was a bit like watching a roving England all stars XI.
Keegan’s England career ended in 1982 with 21 goals from 63 games and he moved on to Newcastle.
It’s unlikely Lambert will surpass that but he may yet have a bigger impact than the 20 minutes from the bench Keegan managed at the ’82 World Cup.
And there is a new batch of young Saints knocking on the England door such as Luke Shaw and James Ward–Prowse, with of course ex youth product Theo Walcott a regular.
In Keegan’s day Southampton was a former England veteran club – it’s now becoming something of a feeder club for country. ‘If only back in my day’ Le Tissier might ponder ….
Certainly Lambert’s attacking menace and sky high confidence could give the Saints an edge in Sunday’s televised game against West Ham.
The Hammers have been rocked by an injury to key man Andy Carroll, so added pressure will be on the likes of Kevin Nolan and new recruit Petric to score their goals.
Southampton: 5/6 Draw: 5/2 West Ham: 7/2
Correct Score: Southampton 2-1 West Ham : 7/1
First Goalscorer: Kevin Nolan 12/1
Bobby’s Bet of the Day:
Half Time / Full Time:
Southampton / Draw: 13/1
Odds courtesy of PaddyPower