Football: Island rivals with an individual streak: Trevor Haylett on the emerging England football talents from Guernsey and Jersey

Click to follow
The Independent Online
IF THE way back for the England national team is to copy how the foreigners do it then maybe it is a reasonable start to put Terry Venables in charge and enlist the help of two young men, Le Tissier and Le Saux, who sound as if they should be playing for France.

The Channel Islands are known for several things but footballing talent is not among them. It has been a long wait to fit one of their sons into a senior England shirt but suddenly, like a London bus, two, in the shape of Southampton's Le Tissier and Blackburn's Le Saux, have come along at the same time.

For the last 10 days since Terry Venables, the new England coach, revealed his hand and put his faith in players of true ability the guessing game on the islands has been: who will be first, Guernsey or Jersey, Matt or Graeme.

Laid-back and easy-going might be local characteristics but set one against the other and the rivalry is as intense as anywhere.

'We've hated the Le Tissier family for years because of what they have done to us in the Star Trophy match between the two sides at under-15 level,' Sid Guy, of the Jersey Football Association, said. 'It's a bit like Everton v Liverpool. We are deadly rivals against each other but very much together against anyone else. We are hoping both Graeme and Matt make it in the team to play Denmark on Wednesday, but if it is only to be Matt we will be cheering just as loudly for him.'

With only three days separating these 25-year-olds Le Tissier and Le Saux were familiar opponents as they worked their way through the representative sides, building their reputations as they went along. Their last meeting ended in a 3-0 win for Guernsey. As their right-winger Le Tissier was in direct opposition to Le Saux. He scored twice, made the other goal and hit the post twice. That day there were not many accusing him of under-achieving.

One more son and the Le Tissier clan could make a decent five-a- side team. Before Matt there was Mark, Carl and Kevin, who was wanted at one time by Oxford. They were all known for their skill and all were just as happy down at the local park as they would have been at The Dell or at Wembley. Matt, though, was always the big star in the making.

Southampton picked him up early and immediately their youth team coach, Dave Merrington, knew he had an exceptional talent. Interestingly enough, considering the freedom afforded him by the new manager, Alan Ball, he also quickly realised that tying him down to a set position would not get the best out of him.

'Matthew is a bright lad and he needed more than to be isolated in just one position,' Merrington said. 'During his first two years we experimented with him in different areas where he could roam and run free and that is where he was at his best.

'The kind of goals he has been making headlines with recently are no different to those he has been scoring throughout his career. I remember one game at Oxford when he picked the ball up on the wing with his back to goal. He flicked it over a defender, side- stepped another and then ran into the 18-yard box. He knocked the ball past the centre-half and calmly steered it into the net.

'At any level that would be recognised as a piece of brilliance. He could do things with the ball you could not coach in a million years and even in the youth team I would return from games and tell Chris Nicholl, who was the manager at the time, that he was good enough to go straight in and play in the First Division.

'He has this thing where people will say he's lazy or that he only plays in fits and starts but with extraordinary talent like he is you have to accept them for what they are. The tragedy for me is that genius is not always appreciated. Sometimes we prefer the workhorse to the thoroughbred.

'The test of all good players is how well they perform every time they step up. Bobby Moore could do it, you could tell playing for England stimulated and excited him. I think Matt will be just the same.'

Le Saux is the more aggressive of the two. He was a discovery of John Hollins. When in Jersey, the former Chelsea manager was tipped off about the youngster who is still the only player to win inter- island honours at both junior and senior level in the same season.

A year ago, working now as an agent, Hollins was involved in the pounds 700,000 transfer which took Le Saux to Blackburn. Now no longer a rover between the three left- sided positions, Le Saux has made the left-back berth his own at Ewood Park and from seemingly nowhere in the England reckoning two months ago he is now Stuart Pearce's heir apparent.

His father Pierre, a quantity surveyor and a useful amateur player, remembers Graeme telling him at an early age that one day he would turn out at Wembley.

'When someone like Kenny Dalglish comes in for you you feel your career might be about to take off,' he said. 'That is what has happened with Graeme. Dalglish encourages talent and Graeme feels he can express himself in a way that he was never able to do with Chelsea.'

(Photograph omitted)