Matthew Le Tissier, you will not be surprised to hear, is a useful golfer. And he is getting plenty of practice just now
Saturday 10 June 1995
Nevertheless, in the spirit of ITV's competition, I wish you luck as you answer a question which would have difficulty taxing a three-year- old. Who, in the course of the last football season, did the following?
Receiving the ball on the half-way line at Ewood Park, he left Tim Sherwood (a recent member of the England squad, remember) trailing in his wash in the manner of Maradona when faced with the imposing figure of Peter Reid. He then turned Mark Atkins twice before pre-empting the intervention of Henning Berg by letting rip with a 35-yard shot which dipped and looped its way into the corner of the net, leaving Tim Flowers (presently England's goalkeeper, remember) floundering on his goal-line like David Seaman on a spring break in Paris.
Was it A: John Barnes? B: Peter Beardsley? C: Teddy Sheringham? or D: someone who, tomorrow afternoon, will be playing golf in the Algarve because Terry Venables believes that is the most productive thing for a player of his talents to be doing when England play Brazil?
The answer is D. Matt Le Tissier, you will not be surprised to hear, is a useful golfer. And he is getting plenty of practice just now. I know he has a low handicap because I have just watched a new video called Matt Le Tissier: Unbelievable. If tomorrow you would prefer to spend 90 minutes in the company of an English footballer with skill, rather than watching the Green Flag national team break down against the most stylish players in the world, slip this video into your machine and watch his goal of the season against Blackburn time and again.
Unbelievable is an appropriate title. It refers both to the player's ability and to his extraordinary continuing absence from an England squad which, as their performances in the Umbro Cup have indicated, is hardly over-endowed with talent. To say this is not, incidentally, to assault Terry Vena-bles' qualifications for the job; he is clearly the best man available. It is just an assault on his blind spot, on the apparent contractual obligation England managers have to ignore the obvious.
Venables is, to be fair, not alone in needing the kind of persuasion of Le Tissier's skills available on the tape. Kenny Dalglish, Kevin Keegan, Roy Evans - none of them, although loaded with dosh for a summer spending spree, have sought to unload any of it in Southampton's direction, never mind the boost that signing the player would give season-ticket sales. There are widely aired misgivings about Le Tissier which can roughly be categorised as follows.
1: He is ideal for a video highlights package because that is how he performs - one or two memorable bursts a match and then he disappears. This is obviously true, and there is a nice moment on the tape when his old teacher reveals that often he would be refereeing matches in which the lad was apparently not bothering.
"I'd go up to him with a minute or two remaining and remind him we were losing," recalls the teacher. "And he'd get the ball and score however many goals we needed to win." Such a characteristic does not exempt him from playing for England, however. Our league is well equipped with midfield drones to do his running for him. And one moment of match-winning is one more than most of his contemporaries can achieve. Besides, one is all you need.
2: He gives the ball to the opposition too often. Again true. Last season there were 30 occasions when the opposition had possession immediately after he had touched it - they had a kick-off.
3: He is only really good at free-kicks and penalties. Not true. But even if it were, he would be worth a place in the team as a specialist, to ensure moments like that were exploited to the full.
4: He can be squeezed out of games entirely. True, but then so can Romario.
5: He has a very bad haircut. True. And there is no defence against that one.
The tediousness of the arguments levelled against Le Tissier, however, is that we have heard them so often before: about Greaves, or Hoddle, or Currie. They are used to disguise a mistrust of easy talent which pervades English football. The simple truth is that were Le Tissier born in Rio rather than Guernsey, he would be playing tomorrow.
And if you think that is far-fetched, then answer this simple question. What was Leonardo, the Brazilian full-back, buying when he was photographed yesterday in a store in St Albans, where the Brazilian team are billeted? Was it A: a Jeffrey Archer novel? B: the new album by Julio Iglesias? or C: a copy of Matt Le Tissier: Unbelievable? The answer is C. Those Brazilians recognise entertainment when they see it.
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