It has been quite the few months for Maya Le Tissier. From joining Manchester United from Brighton in the summer to her England debut, it marks a remarkable rise from her days of playing boys youth football in Guernsey.
It’s hard to find a recent interview with Le Tissier where she is not sporting a wide grin and you cannot blame her either. You forget that she is only 20 years old such is her demeanour and the impact she has had for Man Utd since her arrival from the south coast in July.
On her debut for the club, she scored twice – already her best goals tally as a professional – and helped Man Utd to keep five clean sheets in their opening six WSL matches.
“It’s been pretty mad,” she said in a recent press conference when asked about the last few months of her career. “It’s what dreams are made of – moving to Man Utd and having a good start to the season. Of course, getting my first call-up is unbelievable so I’m really pleased.
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“I’m pinching myself every day, to be honest. To be training and playing with these top players at United and having the pressure that we do, it’s a privilege for us to be in that position anyway. It’s been a crazy few months for me but I’m really happy with how it’s going.”
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She has racked up some impressive numbers elsewhere too. In the entire WSL, she ranks second for passes attempted and completed as well as touches. Le Tissier is also in the top 12 interceptions, headed clearances and possession won in the defensive third.
The defender is certainly repaying the faith Marc Skinner has showed in her, with the Man Utd manager telling Sky Sports in pre-season: “Maya is an exceptionally young, gifted talent.
“For someone that has the ability to come and play into one of my teams now, someone who wants to possess the ball, wants to defend, has so much enthusiasm for the game. For me, when we met her, she was someone that without a doubt we needed to have.”
‘I played against U18 boys in Guernsey’
But despite her young age, Le Tissier’s story is a familiar one in women’s football. As a youngster, she played with boys teams on the small Channel Island of Guernsey, with her dad one of her coaches at St Martins AC.
As she began to realise her talent, she would fly to the UK mainland as a teenager to play for girls teams and try to get noticed – something she admits was unusual for a kid from Guernsey to be doing – and hopes her recent success has inspired children back at home.
Le Tissier recalled: “I didn’t know any different so I was playing football with the boys and enjoying it. But it’s made me the player I am today I suppose, playing with the boys back at home from the age of four to 16.
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“I was playing U18 boys football and they are basically men. Being in the WSL is different, but I have experienced the physicality of it back home, playing on bad pitches and things like that is just normal for me.
“It’s really good to be a role model for the girls in the Channel Islands, and the boys, they don’t get that many opportunities to show what they’re about so for them to be able to see there is a pathway and that I can do it so they can as well is really good for them to push towards and to have something to look up to.
“Flying over [to the UK mainland] to try and get noticed or to play a game of football, people will probably think I was crazy. But it’s different for me and people may have never heard of Guernsey, a place that is so small and to then come over and try to get recognised and play women’s football, I was just playing boys football, it was different but I loved it.
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“My mum and dad, they had to take time off work to fly over with me because I couldn’t do that stuff on my own. I had a lot of support back home, it was great for sponsorship and building a community spirit. I was very lucky with that because everyone back home supported me and I hope they can see that’s now paid off.”
It was, in fact, a trip with Guernsey’s boys U11s side when Le Tissier was first told how good she was by a Southampton coach.
“When I was probably 11ish, I went away with the Guernsey U11s, the boys of course,” she told Sky Sports.
“We went and played Southampton and one of the coaches there was like ‘you need to come over here and get into the girls team’. That was the first time I can remember someone telling me I was good.”
How has Le Tissier’s role changed from Brighton to Man Utd?
Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Reading, in which Maya Le Tissier scored twice on her debut
As Le Tissier says herself, all of her efforts paid off when she signed for the Brighton academy at the age of 16, making her first steps in the women’s game. It was not long before she was promoted into the first team and began to be a regular feature in the senior side – she went on to break the record for the most WSL appearances made by a teenager.
She played in every WSL game during her last two seasons at the club, being named as Brighton Women’s Young Player of the Season for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 campaigns. She was also nominated for the PFA Women’s Young Player of the Year in June.
In her final season with Brighton, she ranked top in the team for interceptions, passes attempted and passes completed. She also attempted and completed the most final third passes too, with the highest number of touches – all areas she continues to excel in.
It was no surprise then when Man Utd came calling. “I didn’t think it was real,” Le Tissier told Sky Sports when asked how she reacted. She also said she laughed when her agent told her of the interest.
Of course, moving to a club like Man Utd presents new challenges. Their squad is stacked with talented international players – there are four Euro 2022 winners alone – creating far more competitions for places, with differing football philosophies and styles of play.
Reflecting on the differences, Le Tissier said: “I loved my time at Brighton. I learnt a lot, especially from Hope (Powell) and the staff so I enjoyed it, but I felt like the summer was the right time to move and challenge myself even further.
“That’s why I decided to go to United and I’ve been loving it so far, playing with great players and getting different experiences as well.
Image: Le Tissier spent four years at Brighton
“At Brighton, it’s a different kind of game plan they have with the players we had. We couldn’t always have the ball and we were doing a lot of defensive work so having the fundamental defensive shape and working with Hope has really helped me with that. Then coming to United and playing more in possession, I’m getting better at that now.
“At United now, I’m really experiencing the competition for places – at any moment, someone could come and take my shirt… But it’s good to have competition because it keeps everyone on their toes.”
Looking at Le Tissier’s heat and touch maps too, you can note a distinct change in how she plays. It must be noted the Brighton maps are across a whole season, while Le Tissier has only played six games for Man Utd so far, but the differences are clear.
The Brighton touch map has a clear line of dots down the right wing, almost covering the entire flank. This correlates with her heatmap, with Le Tissier used as a right-back, and you could even argue as a right-wing back in some instances.
However, at Man Utd, the 20-yer-old has ben deployed as the right-sided centre-back, paired with the returning Millie Turner. The heatmap for this season shows she has not ventured as far forward as she had been doing at Brighton, largely seeing her touches coming inside the defensive half.
There have been some action down the wing an inside the area – two of the five touch map spots being her debut goals – but her work has largely come in defensive areas.
There is scope for Le Tissier to add her more attacking elements at Man Utd, but with the talent already in squad – particularly in attacking areas – she is able to focus on her work as a defender.
It’s also interesting to note that Brighton have already conceded 23 goals in six WSL games this season – the highest in the league. It’s clear the Seagulls are missing Le Tissier’s presence in defence and are yet to replace her quality at the back.
A future England regular
Image: Le Tissier made her senior debut for England against Norway on Tuesday
All of this club form led to her first senior England call-up for the November internationals, although Le Tissier thought Skinner was coming to tell her she was being dropped for Man Utd on the day she found out.
“I was in the gym at Man Utd and I didn’t have my phone on me,” she recalled. “Marc comes into the gym and he’s never in the gym and he was in his normal clothes as well.
“I thought ‘what is going on here?’ and we were preparing for the game against Chelsea so I thought ‘am I getting dropped or something?’
“But he came in and pulled me out and said ‘Sarina would like to call you up for the seniors, here’s the phone’. It was pretty crazy but a nice moment for me.
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“I text my mum and dad and the rest of my family, but then I just left it because I had to go back in the gym and had a meeting straight away. I got back to my phone about an hour later and lots of Facetime missed called. Once I got home, I was able to speak to them and they were really pleased.”
She added to Sky Sports: “It wasn’t on my radar at all. I just thought ‘hopefully I’ll be with the U23s, we’ve got some good games coming up, make sure I’m for and ready for that’. I don’t think I’ve stopped smiling since.”
Le Tissier made her debut and first start against Norway in Tuesday’s friendly in Spain, needing less than three minutes to make a well-timed run and tackle against Sophie Haug and announce herself on the international stage.
Speaking after her debut, the defender said: “I found out in training [that she was starting] so it was in front of everyone else when Sarina said it. I was shocked to be honest, but delighted to have made my debut. I really enjoyed being out there with all the girls and camp has been great in general.
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“It [international football] is a quicker tempo and you need to make sure you’re on the ball. When you’re playing in the top games [in the WSL], it’s quite similar, but the international games are still a level up.
“It’s about adapting to that, making sure you know the game plan and you can execute it as well as possible. I think I went in quite composed, just tried to play the game and the role that Sarina gave me, I tried to perform it as well as possible.”
Although unlikely to oust Leah Williamson, Rachel Daly or Millie Bright in the Lionesses defence any time soon, there is a World Cup hurtling down the tracks and spots in the squad up for grabs if Le Tissier’s form continues. “My aim is to get into the team whenever that might be, it might be a while but I’ll do anything I can,” she said.
Highlights of the Women’s Super League match between Manchester United and Chelsea
But for now, it’s back to club matters. Manchester United travel to Arsenal on Saturday evening, live on Sky Sports, looking to recover from their 3-1 loss to Chelsea before the international break.
Man Utd had won all of their games up to that point without conceding a goal, and will arguably face a tougher test to keep out an Arsenal side who are top of the WSL.
However, Le Tissier’s upward trajectory has been astounding. In just four years, she is already an experienced WSL player, competing at the top of the league and is a future England regular. Her career is really only just starting and it’s exciting to see where she goes next.
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