Rants and musings from the magazine team
Matt Le Tissier: A Southampton player so good, even Portsmouth fans liked him. Well, some of them. FourFourTwo's features editor Hitesh Ratna pays tribute.
The extravagant beak. The shapeless hair. The bulging midriff. The lumbering gait. Without the ball, Matt Le Tissier looked totally out of place on a football pitch. Like a fan who had somehow blagged his way into the team; who, as soon as the ball came to his feet, would be exposed as some Sunday League chancer. This wasn’t a professional footballer, surely.
Then he’d get the ball and everything would change. Having received a pass, he was just as likely to hit an inch-perfect 80 yard pass, slalom (albeit very slowly) between two defenders or nonchalantly flick it up and volley home from 30 yards. And for me, that was the simple but enduring appeal of Southampton’s favourite son: not that he was a great player, but that he was a great player who looked like he should be a sh*t player. An oxymoronic combination of lumbering elegance, the everyman genius, the workaday (Le) God.
Which is why I think his collection of astonishing Premier League goals is unlikely to be matched. Cristiano Ronaldo looks like he should be able to thwack the ball in from 40 yards. So what if Thierry Henry beat the entire Spurs team to score; he was part footballer part sprinter. And as for Dennis Bergkamp, well, he’s Dutch. He was born to play.
Le Tissier, on the other hand, is from Guernsey. GUERNSEY! He certainly wasn’t a sprinter, and for him, six-packs are to be kept in the fridge. When speaking to FFT in 2010, he confirmed his casual approach to professionalism – and at the same time enhanced his appeal – by revealing his pre-match meal: an omelette. And as for fish and chips, never on a match day; they were reserved for the night before a game.
Fuelled by eggs, battered cod and mushy peas, he still managed to score that goal against Blackburn. That goal against Newcastle. That goal against Manchester United. He was, it seemed, incapable of scoring a bad goal. And being the first midfielder to score 100 goals in the Premier League, there was quantity to his quality. His tally of 25 league goals from midfield for the Saints in 93/94 has only been bettered once: by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2007/08.
But then Ronaldo played for Manchester United, who in 2007/08 did the league and Champions League double. The season Le Tissier bagged his record haul in the league, Southampton finished 18th, one point above relegated Sheffield United. With the Saints scoring a paltry 49 goals, it meant Le Tissier scored more than half of all the team's goals.
And yet he stayed. Flair surrounded by graft. Ronaldo played with Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Carlos Tevez. Le Tissier had to make do with Francis Benali, Jason Dodd and Iain Dowie. To borrow from David Baddiel, seeing Le Tissier in the Southampton lineup was like finding a Matisse in a bunch of Rolf Harrises. But then he was a throwback to a bygone era off the pitch too: his loyalty bigger than his ambition. You can’t help but admire his devotion.
It is, after all, one of the reasons that Le Tissier can count Xavi among his fans. “I used to love watching Matt Le Tissier,” the Barca midfielder told FFT in 2009. “He played for a small club with a small stadium. But he would never leave. He stayed where his heart is.”
Yes, Xavi. He stayed where his heart was and scored great goal after great goal. All while having the mobility of a wheelie bin.
You’ve got to love that.
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