So this is a bit different, usually I’d just read the book and then lay the review on you and leave you to read the book for yourself. On this occasion, though, there was something about Matthew Le Tissier’s autobiography imaginatively title Taking Le Tiss that perked my interest from the first chapter proper after the Foreword and Introduction.
Before I get into that it’s worth bearing in mind what my position is when it comes to Matthew Le Tissier. I would struggle to think of a more naturally talented player in Great Britain in my lifetime. Paul Gascoigne is a good contender, but outside that for sheer skill, creativity, vision, trickery and range of passes I cannot think of many who can beat Matt Le Tissier. Skill and talent oozed off the fella like the rays shine from the Sun. I enjoyed watching him play on the telly when he’d get up to his tricks and pull off moves that you didn’t think possible and change games with a brilliant pass.
Even this goal is patently not his best goal (although scoring against Manchester United when they conceded six goals is a pleasant experience). That is the measure of a man who in his career virtually single-handedly kept his side in the Premier League. Yeah I get the whole it takes 11 men to win things, but it’s no exaggeration to see that Argentina would not have won the 1986 World Cup without Maradona, Southampton’s place in the top division would not have been as long were it not for Matt Le Tissier.
Before I read the book, whilst it rested on the table next the pile of books I’ve yet to review (yeah, there’s a few) I even reflected on how admirable Matt’s commitment to the one club throughout his career is. Some people see it as a desire not to leave the comfort zone, I see it differently (I may even see it differently still after reading the book). Some people see it as an example of that kind of loyalty rarely seen in the game today and I see it a little bit differently to that. I see a player who is content. That’s not about loyalty, necessarily, neither is it a fear of leaving comfort, that’s an unerring sense that you are exactly where you need to be for this time in your life and you can find contentment in that regardless of the opinions of others. That’s what I got from his record as opposed to that of someone like Ryan Giggs who, with all credit to his consistency, was loyal to a club that so happened to be winning everything in sight and establishing itself as one of the biggest in the world. That’s hardly going to be difficult to remain loyal to that.
With all that said, though, what intrigued me was the first line of the first chapter proper which was a quip from Matt saying that a chant of ‘You’ll never play for England’ wasn’t a taunt by fans, but came from Terry Venables and Glenn Hoddle. I stopped reading for a bit after that just to reflect on something. The excellent football magazine Four-Four-Two published their top 50 books to peruse on their useful web-site. Whilst going through the list from 40-31 I came across The Mavericks by Rob Steen – a book I would very much be interested in reading in the light of the sheer mediocrity of English football in the 1970’s. Matt’s name is often linked like those mavericks of that era who were in large part ignored by the England managers because their lifestyle and style of play didn’t match that which was expected by the manager at the time. Matt is often mentioned in a similar light more for his style of play rather than his lifestyle. Successive England managers have never been able to accommodate such a player and there has been some sadness around that.
Yet I’ve not understood that sadness. Especially as I got older and appreciated some of the factors to take into account when putting any team together when you think of it Matt should be grateful for getting those caps in the first place. Agreed, there have been worse players than him who have won more caps (not mentioning any names like Carlton Palmer and Andy Sinton) and if we were measuring things by that standard then yeah it is preposterous to think managers thought these were better than Matt. For all that, though, Matthew Le Tissier in a real way should never have played for England at all unless the England manager did something that it is completely unknown for an England manager to do – invest and base a team around the creative abilities of one player. It’s just against English football sensibilities to do anything like that. I cannot think of a coach who would do that. Even if Alan Ball, were he alive and became England manager I seriously doubt if he would take the gamble on building the England team around the creative abilities of Matt Le Tissier.
Why am I so convinced? First of all there’s Matt himself. The guy is capable, but is he someone that you would rely on to lift your team to heights in international football against some of the toughest defences in the world? Is this the man you believe would be able to unlock the tightest defences and keep battling away even if he were man-marked by two tough minders? Plus any system to accommodate Le Tissier can be easily broken down when you snuff out Le Tiss as a force in the game. It has always made sense not to put your eggs in one basket when it comes to an international team as England have found out when they relied too much on Wayne Rooney and previously David Beckham to be their saviour when the going gets tough.
The second reason why Le Tissier would never make it for England is that the egos in an England side wouldn’t countennance submitting to a player like Le Tiss. It’s one thing at club level knowing that it’s literally just a case of pass it to Matt and let him do the business, but at international level with midfielders who would argue they can be equally as beneficial to the game and a couple of others thinking they’re worth more than playing second fiddle to the guy playing for Southampton, it’s unlikely that accommodating Matt would work. Don’t give me that patriot line that you’d drag out about players just want to pull on the shirt and play for their country in whatever position. Nah, you want to play in your favoured position and in a manner similar to your club, but it’s not likely that your club will play anything like Southampton.
The final reason why the Le Tiss biz was a non-starter is well highlighted in one of the books I’ll be reviewing on here in the not too distant future. In the book Don’t Mention The Score, Simon Briggs outlines the record of England managers to distrust pure skill like that of Le Tiss, whether it was those Mavericks of the 70’s or Glenn Hoddle in the 80’s there was a consistent lack of trust in that kind of player from England managers. There was nothing to say things would change with Venables and later holiday. The Gascoigne phenomenon was allowed to explode because he not only had skill but a desire for the ball to do all the hard grafting work that England managers have always placed as the minimum requirement of any England player.
Don’t get me wrong I genuinely believe it would have been very hard to make a good argument to build an England team around Matt Le Tissier even in the dross of the England teams of the 90’s. Funnily enough I reckon England are facing similar difficulties accommodating Wayne Rooney in the team. Now he’s the man of the moment and most would agree that he’s the best English player on form at present, but then when you build a team with him in it without building a team around him and taking on board the way guys like Gerrard and Lampard play, it’s always going to be difficult to get the right balance – a problem that is still an issue regardless of qualifying for the World Cup and any friendly wins against Egypt recently.
Now with all of that said and done, I look with great interest to see how the autobiography will unfold and sharing the results of it with you on completion. Enjoy.