It may surprise the current generation to know, but there was a time when the Premier League had significantly less foreign imports than it does now. In the early days of the league, high-priced foreign talent was not nearly as prominent as it is now, with a lot of home-grown talent making its way to the forefront of the English game and making names for themselves as they went.
Before the time of Sergio Aguero, Kevin de Bruyne and Eden Hazard, we had a fantastic crop of young, hungry British talent, which on their day could (and probably should) have been world beaters. Players like Gary Neville, Paul Scholes, Jamie Redknapp, Steve McManaman, and countless others were all performing fantastically week in and week out, and really looked like giving the England team its best chance of success since that glorious day in 1966. Alas, it ultimately was not to be, but they sure made the Premier League incredibly exciting to watch.
To give you a little insight on your writer, I am a football fan of some 25+ years, and a die-hard AFC Bournemouth fan, but in my younger days I had varying influences from family members as I was put in positions where I sporadically supported other teams such as Liverpool, Manchester United, Leeds, Tottenham, and thanks to my father, Swindon (which thankfully I grew out of quickly!) Whilst my support for these teams ultimately never lasted much longer than a few weeks to a couple of months, such was my love for AFCB, what it gave me was an appreciation and love for the game. I became something of a neutral fan, and would watch the Premier League in awe of the talented players on display. It also gave me the chance to study and learn the tactical side of the beautiful game from a generation of players who would go on to be revered and looked back on fondly by countless people across not just England, but the whole world even to this day.
The 90’s was a Golden age for the England team, with names like Alan Shearer, Teddy Sheringham, Paul Gascoigne, Paul Scholes, Paul Ince, David Seaman, Nick Barmby, Les Ferdinand, Sol Campbell…… we had a fantastic generation of English players who all served the national team with great distinction. But the focus of my attention today will be a man who many would argue didn’t fully get the international recognition that his talent deserved, and that man is “Le God”, Matthew Le Tissier.
Debuting for Southampton on 30th August 1986 in a 4-3 defeat at Norwich, few would have imagined the career he would go on to have, becoming a club icon and a rare example of a player staying loyal to a club for his entire professional career. In 540 first team appearances for Southampton, 270 of which came in the Premier League, Le Tissier amassed a total of 209 goals, with 160 of those coming in the old First Division/Premier League. It’s also worthy of note that from 48 career penalties, Le Tissier only failed to convert one, making him fearsome from 12 yards. He was a technically gifted player, a creative attacking midfielder in a time where 4-4-2 was the formation of choice for the majority of teams. Le Tissier arguably broke the mold for what a midfielder could be. The ball seemed to stick to his feet like glue, keeping possession and creating chances out of nowhere was a common sight for Saints fans, his “flick up and shoot” goal against Wimbledon in 1994 is a classic example of this. Le Tissier was regularly linked with moves away from Southampton, with Manchester United, Liverpool, Chelsea and several others all linked with him, but his fierce loyalty to the Saints ensured he remained on the south coast.
I spoke to some friends of mine, David and Steve, both life long Saints fans about their thoughts and memories, and they had this to say about Le Tissier:
David: “His technical ability and dedication to the club was second to none. He had the quality to single-handedly change a game, and with Southampton struggling for much of the 90’s he pretty much kept us up on his own. His wonder goals against Newcastle and Blackburn summed up his self belief and confidence in his own ability to attempt ridiculous, long distance shots. In short, he’s a legend.”
Steve: “I remember being sat in the front row between the near post and the corner flag, and the ball flying practically over my head as he scored directly from a corner against Middlesbrough. He always gave the team confidence as they knew they had a match winner on the pitch. The ball seemed like it was on a string when he dribbled with it, and you could tell from where the ball goes for most of his goals that it’s exactly what he wanted to do”.
It’s safe to say that he is highly regarded, you would be hard pressed to find any Saints fan willing to speak ill of “Le God”. But as good as he was for Southampton, this never truly translated to the world stage. In 8 senior appearances for England, sadly he never found the back of the net, and was never able to consistently force his way into the team, though injuries may also have played a part in this.
Some say this was due to playing for an “unfashionable club”. It’s a debate that has raged for years, with many fans believing that the chances of a player being selected for England was entirely dependant on which postcode they made their living in. Others point to the fact that with Paul Gascoigne at the height of his powers, and as previously mentioned, in an era where 4-4-2 was seemingly the only formation known to managers there simply was no way to fit him into the line up and use him in his most effective role.
I personally remember a World Cup Qualifier from February of 1997, where then-England manager Glenn Hoddle opted to partner Alan Shearer with Le Tissier, with the plan being to use Le Tissier’s creative vision and eye for goal to push England through a strong and resilient Italy. Ultimately, the plan backfired as Le Tissier had something of a shocker and Italy got the win thanks to a well taken goal from Gianfranco Zola (Another fantastic talent, but we’ll discuss him another day).
This would end up being Le Tissier’s final appearance in an England shirt, and it’s a real shame that such a talented and much-loved player was unable to get a goal for his country. but for whatever reason, he just couldn’t get going in an England shirt. While he did score a hat trick for the England B team in a friendly over the Russian B team in the run up to the 1998 World Cup, his omission from the squad travelling to Paris was not surprising, and Le Tissier later admitted that he felt his form never fully recovered after this.
And the statistics do seem to back this up. From 30 games in the 1998/99 season, he managed only 6 league goals, with only 4 more following in the next 3 seasons from another 30 appearances. Was Matt Le Tissier a broken man after the World Cup snub? Perhaps broken is too strong a term, but it seems evident that his confidence was not what it once was. It is perhaps unsurprising then that Le Tissier announced he would retire at the conclusion of the 2001/02 season, bringing to an end the career of one of the best midfielders to grace English football.
Whatever the reasons, Matt Le Tissier carved a legacy for himself, and ensured that fans would always remember him in high regard, irrespective of his exploits for England. In a 2010 interview, Xavi revealed that Le Tissier had been one of his childhood inspirations;
“His talent was simply out of the norm. He could simply dribble past seven or eight players but without speed – he just walked past them. For me he was sensational.”
A glowing tribute from one of world football’s biggest superstars. One can only wonder what sort of plaudits he would have gained had he been able to replicate his club form for his country. But with that being said, there can be no doubt that Matt Le Tissier was a fantastic Premier League player, and truly one of a kind.
A huge thank you to Paul for writing this piece, a great debut piece I’m sure you’ll all agree.
Other articles you may enjoy:
- Millwall vs Sunderland :A match review
- Interview with FoxInTheBox
- Why PSG will not win the Champions League
- Dark days over at Charlton?
- Ipswich Town Need Change!
- FM18 Regen Guide Part 1: Countries and Clubs
- A New Look New York Red Bulls