“I played the game the way I wanted to play it” – Matt Le Tissier
There have been plenty of great goal scorers in football over the years, think Shearer or Raul or more modern players like Christiano Ronaldo or Messi. These players rack up huge numbers of goals but even the latter two, regularly regarded as two of the best to ever play the game, only occasionally score amazing goals. Ronaldo tries so many free kicks and long range efforts that some of them are bound to hit the back of the net and the most remarkable thing about Messi is the consistency and seeming simplicity of his goals. He slides the ball past keepers the way a computer game player would. On the other side of the spectrum, you get players who don’t score very often but when they do it’s spectacular. Think Tony Yeboah smashing every goal he scored in off the crossbar or Ariel Ortega who seemed to think that the only way to beat a ‘keeper was to chip him. You rarely get a player who was both a great goal scorer and a scorer of great goals. But there is one who comes easily to the mind. “Le God”, Matt Le Tissier.
Le Tissier, as his nickname suggests wasn’t like other players, he sometimes didn’t even seem to be playing the same game. While the rest of the pitch was a hurricane of hard running and sweat and blood and thunder tackles, Le Tissier often looked as though he was enjoying a game in the back garden with his kids. He was almost always the best player on the pitch and never had to hurry but, as you might when playing with a child, never taunted the other players with his talent, he just kept the ball out of their reach, moved to the right places at the right time and then, without much effort, put the ball in the back of the net.
Watching a highlights package of his goals on YouTube makes you laugh out loud at the audacity of his goals. Scored from all over the park, from distance, from inside the box, from the spot or (more often than you might remember) on the run, they are all things of beauty and he is generally thought of as being one of the most talented Englishmen to ever play football. Indeed Barcelona legend Xavi once said of Le Tissier, “In Catalonia there used to be a half-hour programme every Monday where they’d show the best goals from the Premier League, every week, Matt Le Tissier would be on the show. I’m talking outrageous, sickening goals. Our whole house was obsessed with him”.
Despite his obvious skill and the admiration with which he was held, he never had much luck playing for England, he may have been unlucky to have been playing in the same era as the mercurial Paul Gascoine but Le Tissier still managed eight caps for his country.
As for his club career, where to start? Well Southampton obviously because it was the only club he played for as a professional but that in itself is a huge part of what made Le God such a cult hero, not just for Saints fans but football fans in general.
He could have played for anyone, he had offers from abroad and many big clubs in England but Southampton was his club and he loved and loves it just as much as the team’s supporters love him. And why wouldn’t they? Sure, these days they are a model of how to run a football club, regularly bringing the best young players through their youth system and selling them on for huge profits while comfortably securing their place in the Premier League and enjoying some European adventures along the way, but back in Le Tissier’s day, things were a little different.
Throughout his time at Southampton they remained a top tier club but that was largely down to Le Tissier’s goals and influence. He wasn’t a screaming, in your face player who dragged a team forward by their bootstraps, he was a man who created things. Putting the ball on a plate for his team mates or popping up with vital and usually spectacular goals. In his third season for the club he managed twenty goals, helping Southampton to a seventh place finish, their highest position in five years and a personal reward in the form of the PFA Young Player Of The Year Award. He continued to score regularly, hitting a career best of twenty five goals in the 93/94 season which helped the Saints to stay up by just a single point and twenty the next year including an audacious forty yard chip against Blackburn Rovers.
When he wasn’t embarrassing goalies from long range he was beating them from twelve yards. Incredibly his record from the spot was forty seven scored from forty eight taken. The missed penalty, which came against Nottingham Forrest was such a rarity that ‘keeper Mark Crossley counts it as a career highlight. In fact it was from the penalty spot that he scored his 100th Premier League goal. The goal made him just the sixth player to reach the century and the first midfielder to achieve it.
As the Premier League and the money the television deal with Sky brought in to the game began to exert its influence, many clubs started to refurbish or move to bigger more modern stadiums. Southampton were no different and in their final game at the Dell against Arsenal in 2001, Matt Le Tissier was on target once again (a spinning volley into the top corner obviously). Fittingly it was both the final goal to be scored at the ground and Le Tissier’s final goal for the club.
Since leaving the game Le Tissier has mainly done a lot of television and ambassadorial work but since August 2016 he and former team mate Francis Benali have started to work as football agents. As a player who only ever did what made himself happy, he should be perfectly placed to help young players achieve what they want in the game.