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June 2 (Reuters) - Liverpool have signed striker Rickie Lambert from Southampton, the Premier League club said on Monday.
The 32-year-old, currently with the England squad in Miami preparing for the World Cup, scored 13 league goals for the Saints last term as the south coast side ended their campaign in eighth place with a club-record 56 points.
"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," Lambert said on the club website (www.liverpoolfc.com).
"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."
No transfer fee was disclosed but British media reported that Lambert, a boyhood Liverpool fan who spent his youth career at Anfield before being released at the age 15, was costing around four million pounds ($6.7 million).
Lambert scored 114 goals in 228 appearances for Southampton, and after playing for a number of years in England's lower leagues he helped the Saints rise from the third tier to the Premier League.
Along with many of his team mates he flourished under the guidance of Mauricio Pochettino, earning a call-up to the England side and a place in Roy Hodgson's World Cup squad.
"When I grew up there was only one club I loved," Lambert told the Southampton website (www.saintsfc.co.uk).
"I can honestly say now I have two clubs which will always be in my heart and that is thanks to the Saints fans.
"The people who support this club have been nothing short of amazing towards me and, when I look back in years to come, it will be the relationship I had with the fans here which will stand out the most.
"Southampton have allowed me to realise a lifelong ambition by joining Liverpool FC and taking my family home. The five-year plan when I arrived was to get this club from League 1 to the top half of the Premier League. Against all the odds we have achieved that."
Lambert is Liverpool's first signing since the start of the transfer window and the Premier League runners-up will look to strengthen further ahead of next season's Champions League campaign.
He will compete with Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge, who plundered 52 league goals last season, for a striking role at Anfield.
"I've seen Rickie Lambert over the years and he's one of those players that probably never got the recognition for what a really good footballer he is," Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers said.
"It's only late on in his career - at 29, 30, 31 - that people are really starting to focus on his qualities. He was probably seen as the traditional big No. 9, a British striker that is good in the air.
"But he's one of the most accomplished footballers I've seen. It has been so refreshing that he's got his call into the England team, and he certainly hasn't let anyone down - he has been outstanding."
($1 = 0.5962 pounds) (Reporting by Josh Reich; Editing by Ed Osmond)