Football / Fan's Eye View: Glorious gloss of Matty: No. 57 - Matthew Le Tissier

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The Independent Online
THERE used to be quite a few of them. Players who would not be seen dead eating Gordon Strachan's banana mash.

Their own ingestion always seemed likely to be decidedly more hedonistic and they could be relied upon regularly to upset some jobsworth or other. They also, Frank Worthington excepted, tended to have a high burn-out rate and that most potent of kiss-of-death reputations: the under-achiever.

You will recall them: Peter Osgood, Alan Hudson, Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Duncan McKenzie, Tony Currie and a certain George Best. Most of all though, they reminded you why you loved football in the first place; the score of that game in Middlesbrough on a chill Saturday of 20 years ago had long since slipped from the memory but the vision of Stanley controlling the ball on the back of his neck before tormenting the defence yet again certainly hasn't.

In the hurly-burly of today's game there are few signs of this cavalier spirit. Ryan Giggs has the potential to be bracketed with the lovable rogues above but he seems to be willing to listen to good advice; Chris Waddle, yes, in many ways, but he is coming to the end of his career and played too many times for England to truly qualify as a subversive influence; Eric Cantona, beyond doubt and so completely from the 'entertainer' camp as to be almost self-parodic but, when all is said and done, he is French and flamboyance is expected over there.

Which only really leaves one man. Matthew Le Tissier has the main qualities: brushes with authority, failure to be picked by his country, the first player to be dropped when the team is not doing well and the sort of impudent and intuitive genius that is anathema to the 'professional' ethos and sheer heaven to those of us who like to gasp at the joy of the moment.

It is some time since one player was my sole reason for going to watch a match. Southampton v Tottenham, say, would qualify, mainly due to the visitors, as an attractive fixture. All I want to know, though: is Matty playing? He's not? Dropped again? Southampton v Tottenham. Who cares? On the other hand, Wimbledon's visit to The Dell to meet a Matty-reinstated Saints is clearly one of the fixtures of the season.

According to one critic Le Tissier performs only twice every 10 games but this is pure shoddy thinking. By such a reckoning it would have required 420 games for Matt to score his 84 League goals, whereas the reality is that he has played nowhere near this number.

Another criticism levelled at this 'luxury player' is his inability to perform away from home, on hostile grounds where the battle is at its fiercest. Again, simply not true. Le Tissier has scored on three separate occasions at Old Trafford, twice at Highbury and also notched at Anfield, Goodison, St James' Park, White Hart Lane and the Roads at Carrow, Maine and Loftus. The only obvious omission is Leeds but nobody's perfect.

Also, let us consider the side for whom he plays. Southampton, under Ian Branfoot, were hardly sympathetic to Le Tissier's style, although matters may now change under a different regime. Witless thumps into touch at the expense of an accurate pass to feet is hardly conducive to bringing out the best of our man. He is obliged therefore to conjure goals from nothing, as recently demonstrated to perfection against Newcastle. Those two goals, producing shivers of delight and the roar of acclaim, will serve as a testament to unadulterated skill; the rapier thrust going where the dull bludgeon of Iain Dowie's broadsword had failed in 17 games.

Amazingly, the current rehabilitation continues and a remarkable event has just come to pass: Le Tissier made captain of Southampton] The feckless adventurer entrusted with responsibility]

John Lair, Southampton supporter

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