Having lacked inspiration to write for a long time now, I have decided to start a new series on the Red Samurai where I look at my favourite players. The series will not be limited to Liverpool players and it will not simply be the best players I have seen. First up is Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier, a maverick attacking midfielder whose collection of great goals for a lesser club will probably never be matched and a player that gave my some of my first football memories.
Overweight and lazy, Matt Le Tissier is not too different from your average pundit as he coasts his way through Soccer Saturday week after week making little effort to appear interested or insightful. It infuriates me that a man I idolised as a young football fan has now turned into someone that forces me to either mute the TV or change channel when I see his face. It’s saddening because at one point in the 90s there was no player in world football that could excite fans with such unpredictable brilliance or inspire with his loyalty to his club, Southampton.
The way I described Le Tissier the pundit in the opening sentence is probably not too different to Le Tissier the player, aside from a few crucial differences. A far cry from the toned and chiselled athletes that are commonplace in the modern game, Le Tissier was a player who relied solely on his technical wizardry to win games and it was always surprising to see a man who had the physique of a normal bloke but skills that very few players could ever dream of having.
Le Tiss would stroll about the pitch for majority of games, barely breaking a sweat, but then the ball would arrive at his feet and he would explode into life, embarking on mazy dribbles, unleashing piledrivers from long range or playing a pass that nobody else on the pitch could have seen. It was remarkable to see a player with such effortless talent, who genuinely seemed to be able to do great things without even trying, and I think it is that which drew me and so many others to him.
One man who may be able to challenge for the title of “Matt Le Tissier’s biggest fan” is Barcelona and Spain maestro Xavi, who shocked many be stating his admiration for Le Tiss last year. He said of the Guernsey-born attacker: “The man I absolutely loved watching as a kid was Matt Le Tissier after seeing the highlights on TV of his extraordinary goals.
“His talent was out of the norm. He could dribble past seven or eight players but without speed — he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.
“We had a programme on Spanish TV with the best goals from around Europe. He was always the star.”
A one-club man, Matt spent his entire career at Southampton and although he must have had several opportunities to play at a higher level he always stayed loyal to the club and it was fitting that his last goal for the club was the last goal at The Dell, the stadium where he had wowed fans for over a decade. His goals never won trophies but at times he single-handedly kept the Saints in the Premier League, making his mean that little bit extra and cementing his place as the club’s greatest ever player.
Matt’s loyalty to Southampton was in my opinion admirable, but not everyone saw it that way and Le Tissier was often accused of lacking the mentality to play for a top club. The term “big fish in a small pond” was never too far away when Le Tiss was brought up and it was thought that he enjoyed being at a club where there was never any pressure to win or achieve as long as he scored the odd great goal. That type of contribution would not have sufficed at club such as Manchester United for example, where he would be expected not just to lose weight but to perform at his best every week.
We can only speculate about whether Le Tissier would have succeeded at a bigger club, but what we do know is that he had the talent to change games and if he had applied himself he could have been one of the great English players. Although Le Tissier insists that he has no regrets when it comes to his club career, he must be disappointed with how his international career (or lack of) turned out, as he collected just 8 caps for his country.
It seemed like he would finally get his chance to go to a World Cup in 1998 after he struck a brilliant hat trick in an England B game against Russia, but despite his goalscoring exploits Le Tiss was overlooked by England manager Glen Hoddle and after having his dream crushed, he was never the same player again.
It’s a shame that a player with such talent never got to strut his stuff on the biggest stage but in truth it is no surprise that England managers never took to the talents of Matt Le Tissier. The Southampton legend is exactly the sort of player that people hate in this country, a maverick, and you can only imagine what the calls from the crowd where when they saw Le Tiss ambling around the halfway line waiting for the ball. “Why isn’t he getting stuck into them?” “Run about a bit more!” “Stop those fancy flicks and get the ball out wide!” England have never appreciated a true number 10 and we will probably never see another like Le Tissier in this country, since it appears that attitudes to players of his type have still not changed after all these years.
It is telling that a Spaniard, Xavi, is one of very few players to come out and state their admiration for Le Tissier and perhaps Le Tiss would have had a more fruitful career had he been from Spain, where flair players are hailed not hated.
An ode to such a great player should not end on a sour note though and despite all the ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ Le Tissier had a wonderful career. As an attacking midfielder he scored 210 goals in 540 games for Southampton, an astonishing achievement considering the quality of team he was playing in and the fact that he wasn’t an out-and-out striker.
Many of those goals were penalties and it is from the spot where Le Tissier gained a formidable reputation, scoring 47 out of 48 attempts with his sole miss coming against Nottingham Forest when Mark Crossley made what he calls the save he is most proud of, such was the rarity of a Le Tissier missed penalty.
Of his other 163 goals for Southampton I am sure at least 150 of them are spectacular strikes, such was Le Tissier’s consistency in scoring great goals, and this is ultimately why he is one of my favourite players. Whether it was his 40 yard lob against Blackburn or his mazy run against Newcastle he always entertained and if you type his name into YouTube you will not find a player with a more impressive collection of wonder strikes. After all, there is a reason the Southampton fans call him “Le God.”
Le Tissier’s career was almost Roy of the Rovers stuff, a normal looking bloke who scored countless great goals for one club without even trying. How can you not love that? Just don’t ruin the memories by watching him on Sky Sports News.