One of the Premier League's greatest ever entertainers and a true cult hero, this week's Forward Friday is "Le God", Matt Le Tissier.
Le Tissier was one of the most gifted English players of his generation. A wonderful dribbler with excellent poise and ball control, the Southampton legend oozed class, and had the ability to light up a match with a single touch. He famously rebuffed the offers of bigger clubs to stay with the south coast club for the duration of his career.
His scoring record in Southampton's red and white, like so many of his goals, was nothing short of remarkable. A club of limited stature and resources, Southampton only finished inside the top 10 on one occasion (1989/90) during Le Tissier's 16 seasons there. But Le Tissier, who played as an attacking midfielder, still managed 162 goals in 443 league appearances. Southampton frequently found themselves battling against the drop, but the inspirational Le Tissier kept them afloat almost single-handedly. During their talisman's time at the club, they never once suffered relegation, and after Mick Channon, he is the second-highest scorer in the club's history.
Le Tissier's breakthrough came in the late 80s. After notching 24 goals in 44 appearances during the 1989/90 campaign, he was named PFA Young Player of the Season. His top-scoring season, however, was 1994/95, when he hit 30 in 49 games. It was an outstanding return for a midfielder at a mid-table side. Le Tissier was a frequent scorer of wonderful and outlandish solo goals, and that year his dipping 40-yard drive against Blackburn Rovers was named Match of the Day Goal of the Season.
On 2 April 2000, his last minute penalty for Southampton in a 2-1 defeat to Sunderland brought his tally of Premiership goals to 100, making him only the sixth player and first midfielder to reach the mileston. Indeed, penalties were another area in which Le Tissier excelled. Of the 49 he took for the Saints, he only missed one.
Le Tissier rejected offers from Spurs in 1990 and Chelsea in 1996, insisting he was happy playing for Southampton. His loyalty to the Saints and his refusal to move to a bigger club may well have hindered his England chances, but his devotion was tremendously admirable.
Le Tissier was never fully appreciated by England managers, and his abundant talents were sadly wasted at international level. In total he won eight caps, but never managed a goal. His nadir came when he was controversially overlooked by manager Glenn Hoddle for the 1998 World Cup squad. Having elected to leave the master of penalty taking at home, it was ironic that Hoddle's England were eventually knocked out in a penalty shoot-out by Argentina. That heartbreaking omission signaled the end of Le Tissier's involvement with the national team. It was England's loss.
A man Spain and Barcelona midfielder Xavi lists among his childhood heroes, Le Tissier was one of the most exciting players of the 90s. His sublime ability and his magical goals will live long in the memory of all football lovers.
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