by Daisy Cutter
Ahead of a World Cup where our national manager is seemingly resisting urges to be adventurous in his selection who better to speak to than a player whose international career was all-but prevented by such caution.
Matt Le Tissier was an artist amongst cloggers and 4-4-2 yes-men; a genius when the mood suited capable of the truly extraordinary; an extremely rare jewel that a succession of England coaches – from Taylor (predictably), Hoddle, and even Venables – were too afraid to allow sparkle in our shop front.
Considering our dearth of such domestic magicians throughout the 1990s – and our pitiful reliance on Gazza to pull off the amazing in between injuries – it’s lamentable that he garnered only 8 caps, the same amount awarded to Lee Sharpe and four less than Andy Sinton. A completely different role granted but if the following stat doesn’t make you want to weep for a decade of ignorance nothing will:
England caps –
Carlton Palmer – 18
Le God – 8
But it is unfair to remember a man who could turn football into wine on the poor decision making of others.
Let’s instead focus on a fourteen year career loyally ensconced at the Dell where he regularly – and nonchalantly – lifted a sport into the realms of the supernatural. The slalom runs that bamboozled the very best; the thirty yarders stroked home with a sainted boot (getting your laces through it was for luddites); the cushioned control achieved with the same ease mortals such as you and I reach for a coffee cup.
Shirt out and with a stifled yawn Le Tissier pulled off the spectacular and the sublime time and again and due to this – in addition to being quite evidently a thoroughly likable down-to-earth guy – he has found a rare position in our collective standing. He is loved regardless of your club affiliation.
I am perhaps too old for heroes but only if you choose badly. Le God is right up there for me so talking to the great man this week about the World Cup, England, and the game in general was nothing short of a pleasure….
What’s your earliest World Cup memory?
1978. The Argentinean tickertape reception. Mario Kempes, Leopoldo Luque, Ricardo Villa, Daniel Passarella.
I supported Scotland that year because England didn’t qualify.
Messi and Ronaldo aside, who are you most looking forward to watching during this World Cup?
I’m looking forward to watching a couple of the England boys. Sterling and Barkley have looked pretty lively in the warm-up games.
I also always love to watch Iniesta. He’s a fantastic footballer and obviously the midfield partnership he’s had with Xavi down the years has been pretty good.
I bet you’d have loved to have played in that team with those two?
Cor, not many. You’d just get sick of seeing the ball in that team! They’re brilliant, top dogs and a massive part in why Spain won the World Cup last time.
Can England do it?
Highly unlikely but not impossible. It would take a monumental effort. Having said that there isn’t a team in the world at the moment that stands head and shoulders above everyone else. Each team has its deficiencies so…there’s a very small chance.
Are you optimistic that Roy will put his trust in the kids?
Fairly hopeful. The way he’s been talking has filled me with some hope. He’s said all the right things and he’s trying to protect Barkley by not putting too much expectation on him but certainly we should be more positive than the last tournament.
Who are the dark horses?
A lot of people have said Belgium but I think France might surprise a few people. They only just got through the play-offs but they’re not a bad each-way bet.
Is Soccer Saturday as much fun as it looks?
Definitely. I pinch myself every day at how lucky I am to come into that gig. The lads get on great and it’s like being down the pub with your mates. Obviously you have to tone down the language a little bit but we have a great laugh.
Is there anyone in today’s game that reminds you of yourself?
I think someone who might be as laid-back as I was is Dimitar Berbatov.
Is football an artform?
Some players make it look like an artform. Others don’t (laughs). There are some artists who try to create beautiful things on a football pitch but it’s always far easier to destroy a masterpiece than create one.
Do you ever have nightmares about the Crossley penalty save? (Forest’s Mark Crossley was the only keeper to ever stop a Le Tiss spot-kick in 48 attempts)
(laughs) I don’t think even the night of the game I had a nightmare. It was a bit of a shock though.
The worst bit about it was that I missed the rebound because he parried it back out to me and I missed from about eight yards over the crossbar.
It’s earned him a bit of money on the after-dinner circuit talking about it!
What are you most proud of in your life in football?
I’m most proud of the England caps I got in my career. That was my ambition as a kid to play for England and my first one was the proudest day of my life.
Extending on that how do you feel about your overall legacy? The way that fans from all clubs regard you as a legend?
I think that’s from staying at Southampton and being viewed as the last of a dying breed of loyal players. But it’s lovely that I can go pretty much anywhere in the country – obviously I don’t go to Portsmouth very often! – and be made to feel welcome by the fans and to have that respect.
Finally, I’ve got Italy in a sweepstake. If Balotelli puts one past Hart tonight and I cheer does that make me a traitor?
Yes. Absolutely 100%. They can still go through if they win their other two games so just think of it like that.
Get involved in the Papa John’s ‘Score Twice, Half Price’ predict and win football promotion this summer. With the world’s finest about to serve up a South American feast of Samba delights, all you have to do is register your twitter handle at papaJohns.co.uk/football and tweet @PapaJohnsUK with your prediction of who will score TWICE each day using #STHP and the team name.