When Xavi Hernandez was but a youth, long before he made his debut for Barcelona, he was in need of guidance. Just like any other young man, he needed someone to look up to, someone to teach him the ways of the world. While he doubtlessly made many friends in his early days at La Masia, he still lacked a spiritual mentor.
That was, until he discovered Matt Le Tissier.
Speaking to FourFourTwo recently, Xavi has been nothing short of reverential in his praise for Southampton's messiah. Though he's acknowledged his respect for John Barnes, the Class of '92, Eric Cantona and so on, his love for Le Tissier shines brightest. Xavi has said: "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. Straight in the top corner, left-foot flick and then right over a defender and score against Newcastle.
"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."
There is something truly beautiful about the thought of a young Xavi – future tiki-taka icon, winner of every domestic and international trophy out there – sitting down to watch prosaic English football highlights on a Monday afternoon. We imagine that, as the nourishing Catalan sun beat down upon the warm earth, Xavi was indoors, curtains drawn, watching a Southampton side that included the mundane talents of Jason Dodd, Jim Magilton and Dave Beasant beat Bolton Wanderers at the end of the 1995/96 season. Yet, it was so worth it.
For who scored the winning goal in that game? Matt Le Tissier, of course.
If Xavi became a messianic figure in his own right, it was surely through the influence of Le Tiss. While the former became the most composed midfielder of his generation, the latter led the way in terms of flair, vision and goalscoring verve. Though Xavi wasn't to make his debut for Barcelona until 1998 – at a time when Le Tissier's career was drawing to a close – he soon started to exert a similar influence to his Southampton counterpart. The difference was that Xavi was playing alongside Pep Guardiola, Luis Figo and Rivaldo as opposed to Dodd, Magilton and Beasant. Accordingly, he'd surpassed Le Tissier for silverware by the end of his first campaign.
Le Tissier was Xavi's precursor, and Xavi went on to further his work.
In light of Xavi's self-proclaimed "obsession", it's hard not to see Matt Le Tissier as a Guernsey-born John the Baptist to Xavi's impressionable young Christ. Le Tissier baptised Xavi in a river of Premier League highlights, and Xavi then spread the word of Le God for all to hear. While Xavi established his own playing style, his own doctrine, there was an echo of Le Tissier in each and every one of his sermons. The holy spirit of football descended upon them both – and the result was joy to all men.