It’s not often you’re gifted the opportunity to speak to a man who is revered on a biblical scale. Matt Le Tissier, known simply as ‘Le God’ on the south coast, was idolised for his portfolio of mesmerising tricks as well as an unwavering loyalty to his sole professional club.
For a man who was criminally overlooked at international level he seems only too keen to discuss England’s chances this summer, as Roy Hodgson sets off on his maiden voyage to the European Championships.
Along with the rest of the nation, Hodgson’s appointment caught Le Tissier by “surprise”, especially considering the overwhelming campaign in favour of fan favourite Harry Redknapp that decorated the tabloids on a daily basis.
“I was a little bit surprised because the media led us to believe that it was a done deal with Harry Redknapp,” said Le Tissier.
“However now reality has set in, it’s only fair that we give Roy a fair crack of the whip and everyone gets behind him and the team by cheering the lads on when the tournament starts”.
Preparations for England’s next crusade in search of glory have been less than ideal with the managerial hot seat and captain’s armband remaining vacant for far too long. Wayne Rooney’s absence will only truly be felt when the players take to the pitch in Donetsk on Monday afternoon and Le Tissier believes Andy Carroll will be the man called upon to play as the lone striker against France.
“It looks like it’ll be Andy Carroll leading the line, with Ashley Young playing just off of him. I think Theo Walcott will be on the right side and probably Stewart Downing on the left. Until we get Wayne Rooney back, we have to try and utilise the players we’ve got.”
Hodgson’s selection policy has come under immense scrutiny with the continued omission of Rio Ferdinand, Michael Carrick and Micah Richards. Le Tissier was one of the first to question the inclusion of Stewart Downing and believes another former Middlesbrough starlet should have filled his spot.
“I think we still suffer the age old left-sided problem. I had a lot of stick from Liverpool fans that seem to think I have an anti-Liverpool bias because I was having a go at Stewart Downing. But they seem to forget I was probably still having a go at him when he was playing for Middlesbrough.”
“I don’t think he delivers enough, in terms of final delivery and his goal return. I don’t think he scored a single goal this season in the Premier League and nor did he make an assist. Those stats were pretty damning.”
“I’m more of an Adam Johnson fan, he gives more to the side from an attacking point of view and I would have picked him over Stewart Downing. However Roy Hodgson has a different opinion and we have to respect that, he has a wealth of experience and we can only hope that he’s got this decision right.”
If we cast our attention over to the right flank, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s addition to the squad perhaps mirrors that of Theo Walcott in the 2006 World Cup. Arsene Wenger’s insistence on employing his new explosive winger in a bit-part role this season has meant we’ve only seen a fraction of The Ox’s potential, and yet Le Tissier believes he is worthy of his place.
“I think the boy is mature for his age, both mentally and physically. He’s coped very well and I don’t think he’s as much of a gamble as Theo Walcott was last time round. He looked pretty comfortable in his first outing and I think his inclusion was a brave decision, and one that I applauded”
In today’s modern culture of sensationalised media reporting it would appear that a good relationship with the press is paramount to securing both success and a long-term future within the game. Hodgson’s recent golf day that married up the squad with various high-profile journalists as playing partners proved an inspired move and earned him a brief respite from criticism. Le Tissier was keen to point out that Hodgson’s conduct with the media had won over a number of doubters, which could turn out to be vital in the next few weeks.
“I think Roy’s dealt very well with the media, his press conferences have been good and it seems that he’s gained a bit more respect. That can only be a good thing and hopefully they’ll cut him a bit of slack if things don’t go right. He’s only been in the job a few weeks, you’ve got to give the guy a bit of time”
With the all too familiar label of ‘favourites’ being replaced with the term ‘underdogs’ perhaps the players will be able to play with a newfound freedom. As we discussed what would constitute success for England this summer Matt remarked:
“We’ve certainly struggled with the tag of ‘favourites’ down the years so the tag of underdogs can’t be any worse!”
“The lower expectations should actually help the players. I would say getting to the semi-finals would be (considered) successful and I think that’s a possibility although we might need some luck along the way. The semi-finals would be good and would definitely be viewed as progress for me”
So if Matt didn’t think England would go all the way, which nation did he tout as the ultimate victors come the 1st of July.
“I’ve actually gone for France, at 10/1 they’re good value for a little bet. They’re a slight outsider and they’ve been on a great run going into the tournament. If they do get all the way to the final then Karim Benzema will have a great chance of being the golden boot winner”
As the interview moved to its conclusion, there was just enough time to discuss Matt’s beloved Southampton and their impending return to the Premier League.
“I hope they can do as well as Norwich did this season, I don’t think we’re an inferior side and if you look at what they’ve done….
“We’ve got a bright, young manager and hopefully we can have a similar standard of season as they (Norwich) did”
Le Tissier is a regular on Sky’s Soccer Saturday programme, which derives much of its popularity from the fact that the presenters and pundits don’t hide their own personal allegiances.
Matt will no doubt have to endure the contrasting emotions of watching Southampton’s fate unravel before his very eyes and so I wondered whether he would be able to conduct himself with the same poise and grace as Phil Thompson does when watching Liverpool…
“No chance!” was his triumphant reply.
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