A-League star’s Premier League regrets after admitting he should have stayed at Manchester United
From a distance of 1,700km and more than six years, Morgan Schneiderlin admonishes his younger, more impetuous self.
Schneiderlin is ‘mad with myself’ for retreating into his shell at Manchester United, the club he joined in summer 2015 from Southampton. Equally, the Frenchman rues the rashness of a decision to leave Old Trafford after only 18 months.
A career he describes as ‘a rollercoaster, not a stable life’, has taken him to Western Sydney Wanderers, via Everton and parent club OGC Nice, after Schneiderlin began the calendar year searching for a challenge that would ‘give me goosebumps’.
And, sure enough, the skin is prickly. Schneiderlin is part of a team with genuine designs on the A-League title and ‘loves life’ with his young family on Bondi Beach.
It’s just that Schneiderlin envisaged a wholly different scenario when he arrived at Manchester United, aged 25 and accompanied by a reputation as one of the continent’s most enterprising and forceful midfielders.
Morgan Schneiderlin is currently playing in the A-League for Western Sydney Wanderers
Schneiderlin says he regrets a rash decision to leave Manchester United after 18 months
‘I know if I played to my full potential, with freedom, I would not be in Australia right now,’ says Schneiderlin.
‘Maybe I would still be at Manchester United. When I signed, I wanted to be a legend there. That is why I am mad with myself and it will be hard until the end of my life.
‘My friends ask, ‘Why are you saying this?’ But I know myself and what I can bring. I know this time at Manchester United affected me for the longest period in my career.
‘I was so frustrated I couldn’t give what I wanted. I had a period after at Everton when I didn’t lose the fire, but I lost a little bit inside me, I am not going to hide that. I should have managed it better.
‘You work so hard to be at the top, top level. A lot of people were telling me I would be one of the top players in the world. I had the gut feeling that I had everything to be a top player in the world. Not being able to reach that level will stay with me forever.’
Schneiderlin transferred to Southampton, aged 18, when impoverished Strasbourg were forced to cash in on their prize asset.
The player recalls a debut in the Championship at Cardiff City when ‘after 15 minutes I thought I’d walked into a tsunami, I knew I was not ready’.
Dean Wilkins, then Southampton first-team coach and brother of late former England midfielder Ray, told Schneiderlin that without fitness and aggression to marry to a proficient technique his rich potential would remain unfulfilled.
‘I employed a personal chef and my own fitness coach,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘And in training sessions, I wasn’t focusing on my passing… I didn’t give a damn about losing the ball, I just wanted to get the ball back. I thank Dean Wilkins a lot.’
The French midfielder enjoyed his happiest years in a family environment at Southampton
Schneiderlin, right, achieved two promotions at Southampton before starring in the top flight
Schneiderlin won successive promotions with Southampton in 2011 and 2012 and in three Premier League seasons with the club routinely rated highly among the division’s midfielders for the tackles and interceptions he wedded to a sharp, progressive passing game.
The south coast club gave Schneiderlin ‘my happiest years’. ‘Southampton was a family,’ he says. ‘So many clubs say, ‘We are a family’. But for most of them, it is bull****.’
Schneiderlin discovered a comparatively darker mood at Manchester United. He made a personally encouraging start, nonetheless – of his opening 16 Premier League appearances, United won 10 and drew five, including home and away victories over Liverpool and a win at Everton when Schneiderlin scored his first goal for the club – but, by his own reckoning, the midfielder was a husk of the assertive, influential footballer who excelled for Southampton.
‘I was too affected by what [manager] Louis van Gaal was asking from me,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘I lost me as a player. It was not me on the field.
‘It was not just the manager’s fault, it was my fault, too. My role was not the one I had at Southampton. I felt restricted in my game. I felt they wanted to change things in me. I was not thinking as me, I was thinking about what pleased the coach.
‘When you reach that point, every pass you make, everything you do, you don’t play free. Something stopped me from being who I was. I wanted so much to do well and it is one of the most frustrating things ever.’
Schneiderlin acknowledges Manchester United’s wilting form wasn’t conducive to allowing a £25m signing to ‘go under the radar’ while adapting to a vaster, more unforgiving environment. The club was two years post-Sir Alex Ferguson and had fallen sharply from the Premier League’s business end.
Schneiderlin claimed he became lost as a player at Manchester United under Louis van Gaal
The now 33-year-old left Manchester United due to limited game time under Jose Mourinho
‘It was a weird feeling at Manchester United,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘For me, it is the biggest club in the world, no doubt, but I joined at the wrong time.
‘The training ground needed to be more modern and other things needed to change. You could feel the atmosphere at the club wasn’t great. I was very surprised, I was thinking, sometimes, ‘Come on, we are all playing for Manchester United, we should smile every day, of course there is high pressure but you need to be strong to play’.
‘As a player, you always blame yourself and I know what went wrong with me. If you play for Manchester United, you have quality, I was full of dreams going there and didn’t expect things to go that way.’
Schneiderlin didn’t get on the field during France’s home Euro 2016 campaign. He returned to Old Trafford to play only 11 minutes of Premier League football in the opening half of the campaign under Van Gaal’s successor, Jose Mourinho.
The paucity of action eventually convinced the player to join his old Southampton manager Ronald Koeman at Everton.
Initially, Schneiderlin concluded he’d ‘made the best decision ever’. He gained instant supporter acclaim and free-scoring Everton achieved European qualification.
But 25-goal striker Romelu Lukaku was sold prior to the following season, while home-grown talent Ross Barkley wouldn’t kick another ball for the club before joining Chelsea mid-campaign. Koeman lost his job two months into the new season following a poor start domestically and in Europe. Everton’s mishmash recruitment in summer 2017 is prominent on many observers’ lists of reasons for the club’s current ills.
‘I spoke with Spanish and Italian clubs that played in the Champions League or Europa League,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘But Everton had ambition to be a top-four club and with the team I joined, I think we could have got there. You always want to play in the big, big clubs and I really thought with all my heart Everton would be one of them. It is a big club but from the conversations I had with Ronald Koeman and the chairman [Bill Kenwright] and sporting director [Steve Walsh], I really thought this club would be top, top, top every year.
‘At Everton, I found joy again. The fans were liking me. I was sad when Koeman left. The club was selling me a project with him… then we lost some big players and didn’t take the direction I’d been told (slants hand upwards). I could see with the transfer business they did, we wouldn’t go like this.
Schneiderlin admits he should not have left Manchester United so early to join Everton
‘People shouldn’t misinterpret this. I don’t regret going to Everton. But I regret leaving Manchester United so early. I should have thought, ‘You worked all your life for this and spent seven years at Southampton going from League One to become a top Premier League player. Stay and you will succeed’.’
Schneiderlin’s Goodison Park popularity rating plummeted when, alongside teammate Kevin Mirallas, he was excluded from the matchday squad for a Premier League game against Watford after it was reported the pair walked off the training pitch 24 hours earlier. The timing of a story Schneiderlin vehemently denies – and which visibly angers him to this day (‘it was crap’) – was especially inopportune after he was sent off when Everton crumbled to a Europa League defeat by Lyon three days previously.
A prevailing feeling among fans of Schneiderlin lacking commitment quickly grew. ‘I was one of the guys who ran the most,’ he says. ‘It was hard to finish a game tired, having given your all, then hear people saying, ‘You don’t run, you don’t care about the club.’
Schneiderlin’s Everton career reached its nadir when boos greeted his late introduction in a home game against Crystal Palace in February 2018.
‘You think, ‘F*** it’,’ says Schneiderlin. ”F****** h***, two years ago I was in the best club in the world and now people think I left training and don’t give a s*** about their club’. You say to yourself, ‘F****** h***, what went wrong? What did I do? Who is on me? Someone wants bad for me’.
‘I should have thought, ‘Okay, you are booing me, it is part of being a football player, I will fight’. But I didn’t have the same love for them in this moment. It was the same for them, they didn’t have the same love for me. A good performance from me was average in their eyes and they were never satisfied with me. A lot of times I could feel I was the scapegoat for the fans.
‘I followed Everton after and saw the same thing happened to [midfielder] Andre Gomes. When he arrived, the fans put him like me when I joined, up there (points skywards), ‘Oh the performances are amazing’. Then it went a bit wrong.’
Everton granted Schneiderlin permission to leave following the fan mutiny, he says, but rowed back on the decision after four weeks. ‘They said to me, ‘You are playing so well in training, we want you to stay’,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘I turned around the situation. But there was something lacking.’
Schneiderlin had a fractured 2018/19. He lost dad Albert in September 2018 and after lasting only 44 minutes of a match against West Ham four days after his father’s passing drifted out of the picture under manager Marco Silva.
Schneiderlin believes he became a scapegoat at Everton after claims he lacked commitment
Schneiderlin says his Everton’s struggles were caused by repeated managerial changes
‘Marco Silva thought I was somewhere else [mentally], maybe,’ says Schneiderlin.
‘But I dealt with this very well and didn’t understand why I wasn’t in the squad. I played against Cardiff [in February 2019] when we won 3-0, then played almost every game until the end of the season.
‘I said to Marco in the summer, ‘The thing with the fans, probably it is best for me to go’. I had a great offer from Galatasaray and wanted to go but the club didn’t let me.
‘But I still respected Everton and gave everything the next season. And at the end it was good for everyone I left.’
Schneiderlin transferred to Nice in June 2020, the only regret missing an opportunity to consistently play for Silva’s ‘amazing’ replacement, Carlo Ancelotti.
Silva, says Schneiderlin, ‘is a very good manager…his training sessions are good and the way he wants to play from the back is very clear. But, sometimes [at Goodison], you could feel it was very tense, so it is hard as a manager to keep players confident playing from the back. He is doing a great job at Fulham and I am not surprised.’
Schneiderlin insists he could see Everton’s current issues coming down the track. But he is convinced the club have appointed shrewdly in manager Sean Dyche, who replaced Frank Lampard in January.
‘As a club you need an identity,’ says Schneiderlin. ‘Everton had that with David Moyes, going to Goodison you knew what you would get. When you take managers, you need to keep an identity.
‘You cannot go from a manager who wants to play great football from the back to a manager who wants to play long ball, then a manager who wants to play high intensity, to another who wants to sit deep, then another one… That, for me, was the biggest mistake.
‘You buy players, then six months later they are not suited to the style. Six months later they are suited again, then they are not. Sean Dyche could be a very good match for the club.I think he brings the style the fans want: when you don’t think too much, a lot of crosses and aggression and intensity.’
Schneiderlin had a ‘great feeling’ with Patrick Vieira at Nice and was ‘p***** off’ when the manager was sacked in December 2020 following a brief dip in results.
‘He is a top man, his ideas are very good and I am sad how it finished for him with Crystal Palace,’ says Schneiderlin.
‘Maybe I opened my mouth a little bit too much [following Vieira’s dismissal], which is why the year after was a bit more difficult. Sometimes in football you need to keep your mouth shut.’
Muzzling the erudite, perspicacious 33-year-old Schneiderlin would qualify as an awful shame.
He plans to play football ‘as long as I have the fire inside me’ and future plans include obtaining ‘every badge possible’ to create the potential for employment as ‘a manager or sporting director’. Schneiderlin would like to bridge the gap between playing and high office with work as a pundit.
Prospective Man United owner Jim Ratcliffe was described as a gentleman by Schneiderlin
‘I love speaking about football, so why not do that on TV?’ he says. ‘But I won’t be the one criticising players.’
We might, then, one day witness Schneiderlin analysing the Manchester United ownership of Sir Jim Ratcliffe. Ratcliffe, the INEOS chairman and CEO, is reported to have lodged a £5bn bid for control of the club. He has owned Ligue 1 club Nice since August 2019.
‘His brother (Bob) was very involved in the club in my first season but then took a step back,’ says Schneiderlin.
‘But when we saw Jim Ratcliffe, he was a gentleman. You don’t think he’s a billionaire. He is so normal, so nice and good. He came a few times to speak to us, especially last year before the final of the French Cup. It was clear he wanted the best for Nice.
‘I know he is a Manchester United fan, so we will see what happens.’
Returning to on-field matters, Schneiderlin is effusive in his appraisal of former Southampton colleague James Ward-Prowse.
‘When he came into the team, he was a bit too shy in his game, too safe, but that is normal for a young player and you could see his quality,’ says Schneiderlin.
‘Right now, he is probably the best free-kick taker in the world, he can run around for fun. He is an England calibre player. He is enjoying it at Southampton, he is confident, everyone loves him and he is absolutely right to stay, at the minute.’
Of his stellar cast of former bosses, Schneiderlin reserves his most complimentary words for Mauricio Pochettino, who managed Southampton for 16 months from January 2013.
It is a source of regret that the pair didn’t reunite away from St Mary’s, although Schneiderlin is apologetic over a Tweet from summer 2014 when he was agitating to join Pochettino at Tottenham.
Schneiderlin has revealed his regret at not reuniting with Maurico Pochettino at Tottenham
‘6 years of an amazing journey #saintsfc DESTROYED in 1 hour !!!’ wrote Schneiderlin.
‘To make a transfer happen, sometimes you say things and don’t think,’ he says, evidently sheepish.
‘I loved Mauricio as a human being and as a coach. He couldn’t speak English but from his first training sessions, it was clear what he wanted. He put confidence in every player, everyone’s level improved. His communication was top drawer and, for me, he is the best. Playing for him I felt free and I would give my life for him on the pitch.’
Schneiderlin didn’t feature for Nice this season and was sparingly used last term. The offer from Western Sydney, currently third in the A-League, was ‘perfect for everyone’.
‘It is a great experience for my family,’ continues Schneiderlin, ‘and a chance to get back on the radar with a good team. ‘Physically, the football is very hard, the players run a lot and the mentality is amazing. I was very surprised by the quality.
‘My teammates have been great, they took me for dinner the weekend after I signed and made settling in so easy. The chairman, sporting director and manager did a lot for me and I am very grateful.
‘When you have trust from a club and see everything they are doing for you, you want to repay them. We want to win the league, which is another reason I came here, I want to win a trophy in my career.’
Schneiderlin did not feature for Nice this season before moving to Australia in a loan deal
Schneiderlin’s loan expires in June but he will wait until the season concludes to determine his short-term future.
‘I don’t want contract negotiations to get in the way of a great relationship,’ he says.
‘I am enjoying football again and love life here. My road has been crazy. When I didn’t play for six months at the start of this season, I was so upset every day.
‘If I didn’t care, football would be in the past, but I care so much. I still have the will to compete and play football.’
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