Matt Le Tissier: The Ever-Loyal Entertainer Who Kept Southampton Afloat

Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier
Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier

Matt Le Tissier was good at football.

He was so good at football he scored more than 200 goals for a Southampton team who constantly battled against relegation.

He was so good he was nicknamed 'Le God', and so good we're going to completely side-step his cringe-worthy anti-mask takes and walk you through his 1990s journey to south coast immortality.

For all his post-retirement opinions have drawn him into the mire, there was no trace of a controversial character in the Matt Le Tissier who spent virtually his entire playing career at The Dell. In an era where various players made the headlines for their excessive lifestyles as much as their performances on the pitch, Le Tiss kept himself away from trouble.

He rarely drank, and famously gambled just once, on a throw-in in the first minute of a match with Wimbledon. But after his attempt to punt the ball out of play failed when his 'pass' from kick-off came up short of the touch-line, he vowed never to do it again.

It was an uncharacteristic controversy at the time but it failed to taint his reputation. By the time the 1990s came around, Le Tissier was already building a reputation as one of the most gifted players of his generation, marrying his incredible touch with a pristine football intelligence that meant his lack of pace was rarely an issue.

[Le Tissier] could simply dribble past seven or eight players, but without speed – he just walked past them.

Xavi

He didn't work the hardest on the pitch, yet his commitment was never in question. He never failed to show for the ball, and was a consistent scorer of important goals - whether it was his 40-yard goal of the season winner against Blackburn in 1994, or his emotional winner against Arsenal, which would prove to be the final goal scored at The Dell.

Had he endeavoured to move on from Southampton, there was no ceiling to how far he could have gone. But his only ambition, from the day he signed on with the club in 1985, was to keep them in the Premier League.

That wasn't just talk: he rejected moves to Tottenham and Chelsea in the 90s, later remarking that keeping the Saints afloat felt better than winning silverware anywhere else.

“I played the game the way I wanted to play it, and had I gone on to a bigger club, I probably wouldn’t have been able to do that," he said.

"I knew I probably wouldn’t win any honours, but when you’re at a club that size, staying in the Premier League for 16 years gave me as much pleasure as winning a medal if I’d gone somewhere else.”

His uncompromising style is perhaps the reason there wasn't more interest in his signature, while it can also be blamed for his startling lack of England recognition. He featured only eight times for the Three Lions, despite widely being considered as one of their best ever pure footballers.

FA PREMIER
Le Tissier glides through the Blackburn midfield | Anton Want/Getty Images

But there was another side of the coin. When paired with a manager who recognised and strove to utilise his ability, he was a force to be reckoned with. Upon arriving to take the reins at the club in 1995, Alan Ball reminded his players of that.

“This is your best player and your best chance of getting out of trouble," he said famously. "I’m going to put him right in the middle of the pitch, and whenever you have the chance to get the ball to his feet, you have to do it. He will do the rest.”

Ball and Le Tissier enjoyed tremendous success together. In 1994/95 - the manager's only full season before Man City came calling - Le Tissier broke 30 goals for the only time in his career. His heroics led Southampton to a tenth-placed Premier League finish, their best finish in a decade for the club which was tough but memorable.

Le God's slow-paced yet feared style defined the final years at The Dell, and his eventual departure for Eastleigh in 2002 came as a relief for the Premier League defenders who could outrun him, yet couldn't keep up.

Southampton supporters can be forgiven for dying a little inside every time he tweets, but they will also tell you that his legacy remains untainted. He was one of the most naturally gifted players English football has ever seen, and doesn't need a burgeoning trophy cabinet to prove it.