Sporting Life talks to Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier as the ultimate one club man
Sporting Life talks to Southampton legend Matt Le Tissier as the ultimate one club man

Matt Le Tissier exclusive: Southampton legend on why he never left the Saints and his England disappointment

Anyone who watched football in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s will have been a fan of Matt Le Tissier, but two questions were always raised when talking about one of the most naturally gifted footballers of a generation.

Firstly, why did he never play for a bigger club? And secondly, why did he not play more for England?

He was clearly good enough to do both, but both were seemingly intertwined as playing for a team regularly fighting relegation did not get you international recognition, no matter how big your talent.

And there was hardly a bigger talent than Le Tissier.

Technically there were few players in the world that could hold a candle to the Channel Islander, who was graced with a wand of a right foot that was as deadly at picking out a pass as it was finding the net from all angles.

A scorer of outrageous, innovative goals, Le Tissier played off the cuff, from the heart, and he also let that heart dictate his career path, which would not stray away from his beloved Southampton.

Matt Le Tissier factfile

Matt Le Tissier during his Southampton playing days
Matt Le Tissier during his Southampton playing days
  • 16 seasons at Southampton
  • 540 appearances | 209 goals
  • Eight England caps, 1994-97
  • Young Player of the Year, 1989/90
  • English Football Goal of the Season, 1994/1995

The one-club man is becoming more rare these days and although you have got the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Jamie Carragher to point to, it's surely a lot easier sticking to a club that wins trophies and pays handsomely than it is to one that's not sitting at the top table.

For this reason, the enigma that is Matt Le Tissier is, for me, the ultimate one-club man, which is something that should be applauded and not derided as it is by some citing a lack of ambition, and it's not as if other clubs were not after such a talent as well.

But, just why didn't Le Tissier ever leave Southampton?

"There was no preconceived plan to stay at Southampton," Le Tissier told Sporting Life.

"I have never been a person for planning years ahead. I live day to day and barely think about a week or two ahead, so it was never the plan.

"I came very close to joining Tottenham when I was 21, the season I won the PFA Young Player of the Year award. I was about to be married at the end of the season.

"For varying reasons I changed my mind, as I told Tottenham I was going to join them initially - it wasn’t the right time at that point.

"Tottenham were the only one who I ever spoke to, in terms of speaking to their advisors and legal team. I did not speak to Terry Venables at the time. Although he did want to speak to me, but I refused.

"The same thing happened with Glenn Hoddle at Chelsea in 1985. Given they both went on to become England managers, it was not probably the best career choice! My agent told me he had been in contact with Chelsea, Liverpool and Monaco around the same time as Tottenham too.

"There was always speculation, but Liverpool, Tottenham and Chelsea are the ones which my agent spoke to me about. You read the speculation - Blackburn and Newcastle were also sniffing around. Rumours were aplenty that I had been spotted here there and everywhere, flying up to Newcastle and back to Southampton in the same day. There were interesting theories flying around at that point.

"Most of it was speculation, and to be honest it never affected me. I took it for what it was. I knew if there was any serious interest, I would get a call from my agent.

"It is quite flattering to read in the papers, and it is good for your ego and confidence, but I always took it with a pinch of salt."

Barcelona legend Xavi on Le Tissier:

Xavi is a Barcelona legend
Barcelona legend Xavi is a big Le Tissier fan

“In Catalonia there used to be a half-hour programme every Monday where they’d show the best goals from the Premier League. Every week, Matt Le Tissier would be on the show. I’m talking outrageous, sickening goals.

"We used to say: ‘This guy, Le Tissier, is outrageous and he never goes to a big team. He stays at Southampton. It’s incredible. He could play for anyone.’

“Our whole house was obsessed with him.”

The Independent - 2016

Mediocrity was all Southampton could ever manage in 16 seasons with Le Tissier, who in contrast was producing spell-binding football, and he carried the team on his shoulders for years.

In 1993/94 for instance when he scored 25 league goals, bettered only by Alan Shearer and Andy Cole, yet all that achieved was keeping Saints in the division - by a solitary point.

Did playing under those circumstances never force Le Tissier thinking he'd like to try his hand elsewhere?

"I think there were times when Ian Branfoot was the manager, times when it crossed my mind to potentially leave," he added.

"I was not enjoying the style of football we were forced to play. It did not suit my style much, but the fans at that stage kept me sane and were always on my side if I was not in the team.

"If I was on the bench they were calling for me to come on, and they were a big reason as to why I stayed at Southampton the whole time.

"The decision would need to have been made from my side and the football club if we had been relegated, depending on which season that may have happened. Quite a few seasons we were close to being relegated.

"Looking back at it, I would like to think that I would have done a season in the Championship to get Southampton back up. If that had not worked, then I would have looked to get back in the Premiership, if teams were still interested in me!"

A big fish in a small pond

Regret is not something Le Tissier suffers with, he was happy being the main man for Southampton and stands by his decision making when putting personal happiness above winning trophies and - even more shockingly compared to this day and age - money.

"I have no regrets. I took the decisions at the time for what I felt was right for me. I would never have a regret.

"If I had this time again I would make the same choices. I put personal happiness above money and trophies and I enjoyed being a big fish in a small pond, I have never been afraid of admitting that. I could play football the way I wanted to play football for the majority of the time I was at Southampton.

Matt Le Tissier reacts to his two WONDERGOALS against Newcastle!

"It is far more difficult to be loyal to a single club now, especially if that club was in the bottom half of the table and more often than not fighting relegation. Jack Grealish could be comparable to where I was, playing in a team that is struggling but standing out.

"The difference in wage with what he would be offered at Aston Villa to then Man United for example, would be a vast gap is so vast in comparison to what it was like in my day. In the mid-1990s at Southampton I was on £2.5k a week. Had I moved to Chelsea I would have been on £10k. It is still a huge amount of money, but in comparison to nowadays, it is relatively pretty small."

England snub the only issue

There is one major downside though to this story, and it's the eye-rubbing stat that a player of Le Tissier's skill levels could only manage eight England caps - just think about that for a second.

Yes, there was the small matter of Paul Gascoigne operating as the chief midfield wizard for the Three Lions, but throw in Le Tissier to the oh-so-nears such as Euro 96 and France 98 and maybe, just maybe, things may have been different.

He scored 47 out of 48 career penalties after all.

And maybe in this new age under Gareth Southgate a player like him would get more of a chance for England - although tell that to Jack Grealish. In any case, that's been the one downside of sticking with Southampton.

Had he signed for Spurs, Man United, Liverpool or Chelsea, he would have surely been an England regular.

"I think that was the one thing I look back on and if I was playing in today’s football, being English in the Premier League, I think I would have had half a chance. There is not the volume to choose from that there once was.

"I would have got more chances in today’s football, but in the 1990s there were good quality English forward players around, so the competition was pretty hot.

"If you played at the bigger clubs, you were looked at as a better player, rather than a club like Southampton, which I thought was unfair.

"If I was manager, looking at a player who is playing at a team lower down and his stats are better than someone in a team which creates loads of chances and scores loads of goals, then surely common sense would prevail and think if he played in a better team then his goals would increase too.

"That was the system’s fault, not mine, so it was frustrating."

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