Matt Le Tissier Talks England, European Big Guns and Neymar with Bleacher Report
Speaking at the launch of Samsung’s Win a Pro Contract competition, Premier League legend and Sky Sports pundit Matt Le Tissier was on hand to answer questions both big and small in London earlier this week.
The Win a Pro Contract initiative offers youngsters their chance at a professional football career and was won by teenagers Jack Sherratt and Kayden Jackson, now of Leyton Orient and Swindon Town, respectively.
Bleacher Report’s Tom Sunderland attended the event, where Le Tissier commented on the upcoming Premier League campaign, as well as some of world football’s more pressing matters.
Note: All quotes were gathered firsthand by Tom Sunderland.
Premier League Shuffle
With the managerial merry-go-round in full effect this summer, one of the more relevant topics of discussion has been just which of the Premier League’s big guns will fare best from their changes in leadership.
Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Everton have all appointed new bosses in the last few weeks. Asked whether Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement would make the title race more exciting, Le Tissier responded: “Will it be more exciting? Do you mean Manchester United might not win it, is that what you mean?”
The former Southampton star continues: “I think it’ll be closer, yeah I do. I think purely by having Sir Alex as manager, through tactical awareness and the awareness he has of several bodies around football, I think that will cost United a few points and they’ll be a few points short of what they got this year just by not having him as manager.
“And I think City and Chelsea will both improve. Whether or not the two North London clubs will get closer, I’m not sure, but certainly City and Chelsea will run United a lot closer in the title race,” Le Tissier adds.
And what about [Wilfried] Zaha? He’s obviously gone to Manchester United for quite a sum of money, do you think he’ll succeed there?
“I think he’ll take a bit of time to settle there, he’s still a little rough around the edges. A lot of the times I’ve watched him, he does some good tricks but then his final ball is also a little bit wayward,” the pundit said.
It’s what Le Tissier mentions next that piques interest, however, likening the Crystal Palace product to a name that will remain notorious in Manchester United folklore for decades to come, saying:
“I was in an era watching Ryan Giggs grow up, and for the first few years of Ryan’s career, his final ball was a little bit dodgy. Now just look what he’s done. So, he’s got loads of ability and he’ll get better [Zaha], but it may take a little bit of time.”
Do you think it’s better that he go out on loan rather than stick around at Old Trafford?
Le Tissier: “It is a difficult one. What is he, 20? I think he’s had enough games to not go out on loan, I think he should be old enough to try and make an impression there and not go out on loan, to be honest.”
Just whether or not Zaha will prove to be as successful as one of the best players in the Red Devils’ history will be answered in time, but the youngster has now been handed the target by someone most certainly in the know.
There’s a notion that the Premier League is on a downward slope while divisions such as the Bundesliga would be a prime example of one on the rise. Do you buy into that vein of thinking?
“Not really. I know two German sides reached the Champions League final but I don’t think you need to get carried away by it. If they did that three or four seasons in a row, then possibly we might say “Okay, that’s pretty decent.” But if you look at the Bundesliga this season, Bayern Munich won it with about eight games to go! Borussia Dortmund, even, were well behind in the league, so, is it that competitive if there’s that much of a gap between first and second? What happened to the rest of the teams? How far behind were they?” Le Tissier asks.
“I’m not sure if you took the bottom six teams in the Bundesliga and played them against the bottom six teams from the Premier League, I fancy the English sides.”
So, even though the elite German clubs might be better than their English counterparts right now, the average is still close?
“On the whole, as a division, I don’t think it’s as competitive as the Premier League, I don’t think you get the same kind of shock results going on as you do in the PL. You know, any week in the Premier League, you can get a team at the top of the league going to play the team second from bottom and you can’t guarantee the top sides will win every time. Every season, you see clubs in the relegation zone beating teams in the Champions League places, every season you see that in the Premier League.”
Best Talents in the World
During his days at Southampton, Matt Le Tissier was somewhat of a scoring marvel, making it of little surprise that the fans there chose to nickname their superstar “Le God.”
The 1990 Young Player of the Year, first midfielder to score 100 Premier League goals and scorer of 47 out of 48 career penalties, Le Tissier was as important to the Saints as a certain other player is to their team right now.
During your Premier League career, you scored 22% of all Southampton’s goals. Gareth Bale’s scored 32% of all Spurs’ goals this year. Do you think they’re too reliant on him?
Ironically enough, Le Tissier humbly responds to that particular statistic, and to great humour, saying: “Did I? I didn’t know that!”
"Le God" continues: “No. No, I don’t. I think Spurs have got some very good players in their squad, you know, it’s like saying “Do Barcelona rely on Messi?” Well, yeah, I suppose they do, but it’s Lionel Messi, do you know what I mean?”
It’s an eternal argument. The debate as to just how good some teams might be without certain assets at their disposal. However, as a former team talisman himself, Matt simply thinks that if you’ve got it, flaunt it.
“If you’ve got a good player in your team, you do rely on him. The time to look at it is maybe if he’s injured for a period of time and out of the team, can they cope without him and I think they did this season.
“I think when he didn’t play, their results weren’t too different, point-per-game-wise, than when he was playing. If you’ve got good players in your team, you have to rely on them. That’s what they’re there for!” Le Tissier proclaims.
If he [Bale] does go, how do you replace him?
“Now that’s the bigger question. (Laughter) That’s a far more difficult question because there’s not players of that ability floating around available as transfers in many of Europe’s leagues.”
You say that, Matt, what do you make of Neymar’s move to Barcelona? Will he live up to the billing or will Europe test him a bit more?
“I think Neymar’s got a little bit to prove, I think he’s got a lot to prove. We’ve all seen him on Youtube doing some ridiculous things but in terms of fitting into a team and doing it on a regular basis, I think even though that money’s been spent, the jury’s still out a little bit. From what I’ve seen, I would probably take Bale over Neymar.”
Three Lions on the Shirt
Despite all the accolades of his club career on England’s south coast, Le Tissier was unfortunate to only acquire eight England caps and was controversially left out of the 1998 World Cup squad.
Renowned as a “one-club man,” Matt knows the sting of playing for a smaller club and not receiving what’s perhaps now perceived as the recognition they deserve in regards to national team selection.
Le TIssier praises some of Southampton’s biggest stars this season but still believes a stigma affects those not playing for a “big club.”
In terms of national recognition for players like [Morgan] Schneiderlin and I know Rickie Lambert is a player you think deserves a national call-up as well, do you think playing for a club like Southampton stunts their growth on the international scale. Is it unfair the amount of recognition they receive?
“It is unfair, in my opinion. Probably, the fact that I stayed at Southampton cost me a few England caps during my career. You’d have thought 15, 20 years on, it would have changed but it doesn’t seem that way.”
Now 44 years of age, Le Tissier thinks the national team’s selection stratagem could do with a change, adding: “You know, even with the injuries that Roy Hodgson had in the forwards the last couple of squads and no sign of calling up Rickie. I think Frank Lampard was the only Englishman to score more PL goals than him last season, uh, so you’d have thought he’d be worth a shout.
“I certainly, from my point of view as a manager, if you’d said to me 'Well, we’ve got a forward in the squad, would you rather have someone in your squad who scored 15 times in his first season in the PL, or would you rather have a young lad who can run about and scores once for a team who won the Premier League title' (shrugs)…no brainer.”
Obviously referring to Manchester United’s Danny Welbeck, who continues to gain England recognition, I respond to Le Tissier: Not holding back there then, Matt!
“Don’t get me wrong, Danny Welbeck is a decent enough player but form-wise in front of goal, he’s not at the races! He might do some nice things, work a little bit harder but you need to score goals,” Le Tissier replies. One would have to argue that the veteran’s comments are warranted.
And do you think that’s just down to Roy Hodgson’s choice of tactics or is that an inherent thing within the English mentality?
“It seems to be inherent, it’s almost like England managers seem to think that 'Do you know what, he’s not playing for a big team so he can’t be that good a player.' It’s not always the case and I think down the years, we’ve struggled to come away from that attitude unfortunately.”
It’s here that the Win a Pro Contract competition bears a particular relevance. Aimed at offering a chance to just about any youngster worthy of it, the initiative is a fairly new way of recruiting some of England’s lesser known talent in the lower leagues.
Could a scheme like this [Samsung Win a Pro Contract] have helped you or pros in your era?
“It could have. A lot of it as a teenager is being in the right place at the right time, scouted by the right people. So, if there’s somewhere you can say 'Right, I’m going to put myself in that shop window' rather than just going to play and hope someone sees me, then I think this kind of initiative will make sure some talented boys don’t get lost through the system because they weren’t lucky enough to be playing at the right time with a scout, unfortunately. Because there is a lot of that involved, especially as 12-, 13-, 14-year-old kids.”
Big Summer Spending
What do you make of the transfer policies taken on by some of the French clubs such as Monaco and PSG? The former have already spent over £110 million and the transfer window’s not officially open. With Financial Fair Play coming in, can that sort of spending be sustained?
“You don’t see how it can work with the new regulations coming in because Monaco get gates [attendance] of like 5,000? But it is bizarre, when you ask how are they going to be able to qualify and make sure they’re within the guidelines? It doesn’t add up. But, we shall see.”
Le Tissier does raise a fair point. Monaco, a French principality with regulations allowing foreign players to come in without having to pay any tax, have spent wildly in recent weeks.
Already BBC Sport has reported the purchases of Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid, as well as a £60m double deal to take James Rodriguez and Joao Moutinho from Porto.
However, there’s another inflated aspect of the transfer market that "Le God" comments on, relating to something a little closer to home.
Do you believe young, English players get overpriced and is that a hindrance in national team pressure?
“I think they do get overpriced, yeah, because of the prices that you pay on the Continent. You look at players that come across and say 'Well, there’s a decent player there and I can bring him to this club for £2 million.' In England, you’ve got a decent player and they want £5-to-8 million for him, you know?”
Le Tissier goes on to say: “I’m not sure if it’s stunting the England team because I just don’t think we have the volume of players so I think that’s the problem with the England team. But certainly, I think clubs in this country sometimes are asking far too much for a player. There’s just too much money that people have got sometimes.”
Having spent 16 seasons at Southampton and scoring more than 200 goals in his time at the club, Matt Le Tissier remains a very involved figure at St. Mary’s.
As such, the ex-maestro has the inside knowledge of what the team will try to do this summer in terms of renovations.
Last summer, Gaston Ramirez was a big branch out for the club, a very big move. Can you see the club making any similar moves this year or will Nicola Cortese look to restrain a little bit?
“No, from what I’m hearing coming out of the club, there’ll be some money spent this summer. I think they’re interested in Astori, Davide Astori [of Cagliari], and it’s £10 million we’d be talking about for him. And from what I’ve heard from the chairman and the manager, both are looking to try and qualify for Europe. They’re not going to do that with the squad they had last season so it’s going to need, I would have thought, three or four quality signings to maybe kick us on and let us finish in the top half.”
Le Tissier concludes by saying: “I think centre-half is somewhere where we need strength in depth. We may need a little bit of cover in the wide areas, and I think we need another top-drawer centre-forward.”
You can follow me on Twitter:
Matt Le Tissier was speaking at the Samsung Experience Store, Westfield, Stratford, at the launch of Samsung Win A Pro Contract, a nationwide competition where amateur footballers can win one-year professional contracts at Swindon Town, Leyton Orient and Wycombe Wanderers. Register for a trial at facebook.com/samsungfootball