Morgan Schneiderlin’s Manchester United tenure came to an early end when he went to the place where many United stars go when their careers don’t turn out the way they had hoped. On Thursday, the French midfield maestro joined Everton in a £20 million deal (potentially rising to £24 million). But did he ever really have a chance at Old Trafford?
Louis van Gaal never wanted Morgan Schneiderlin.
According to the Manchester Evening News, the French midfield maestro was on a list of potential transfer targets van Gaal inherited shortly after he was hired in the summer of 2014. Despite a stellar series of performances for Southampton during the previous few seasons, van Gaal wasn’t impressed and crossed Schneiderlin’s name off the list. He changed his mind the following summer, influenced, in part, after Schneiderlin put in a dominant midfield performance when Southampton came to Old Trafford in January 2015 and won, 1-0.
Still, it looked likely that Schneiderlin would end up at Arsenal or Tottenham Hotspur. Arsene Wenger was a longtime admirer (as he would be for any French player or creative midfield type) while Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino knew, all too well, what Schneiderlin was capable of from their time together at Southampton. Nevertheless, it was United that completed the deal, as van Gaal personally called Schneiderlin to convince him to join.
Despite that intervention, van Gaal still seemed unconvinced. The gaffer always seemed to bench Schneiderlin for big matches, despite the fact that United seemed to play well with him in the side. At Southampton, Schneiderlin was at his best as an all-action box-to-box midfielder who could help shield the defense while taking part in the attack. Van Gaal, however, seemed to prefer using him as a holding midfielder, which blunted his attacking instincts and prevented him from displaying the type of form he often showed at Southampton. He barely played down the stretch, starting zero matches after he was withdrawn at halftime during the disastrous 3-2 loss at West Ham that, more or less, ended United’s top four chances. He wasn’t used in the F.A. Cup Final and, after a summer with the French national team where he didn’t play a minute at Euro 2016, Schneiderlin turned up at Carrington in August chomping at the bit to prove his worth.
Too bad Jose Mourinho doesn’t seem to want Schneiderlin, either.
Schneiderlin made his Old Trafford exit today, joining Everton in a £20 million deal (potentially rising to £24 million). The Frenchman will reunite with his former manager, Ronald Koeman, after the Merseyside club beat back interest from West Brom. As The Mirror points out, Schneiderlin is the ninth player in the Premier League era to move from United to Everton, and is, by far, the most expensive of the lot.
Time will tell whether the sale of the Frenchman was premature or prescient. From a strictly business perspective, it was a fantastic move for United. Since the summer of 2009, the unofficial beginning of Sir Alex Ferguson’s “value in the market” transfer policy, United have rarely come close to breaking even or making money on senior-level players when it comes to transfer fees. For a player that will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an Old Trafford flop, a £20 million transfer fee (for a player that cost £24 million) is a masterstroke.
But is it fair to see Schneiderlin as a flop? After all, it’s certainly arguable that he never really got a fair shake at United. Van Gaal didn’t seem to believe in him and Mourinho, certainly, never gave him a chance.
In retrospect, it’s odd that Schneiderlin never merited a look from The Special One. After all, he seemed like the perfect Mourinho-type player. Big and strong but not too big or strong to render him immobile, Schneiderlin seemed like the type of player that could easily function at the base of a midfield three or in tandem with a second deep-lying player in a two-man shield in front of the back four. Mourinho loves players that can defend, and unlike some other players he’s managed over the years, Schneiderlin never has to be cajoled into protecting the backline. When United re-acquired Paul Pogba, Schneiderlin seemed like the ideal partner for him. Schneiderlin could do the dirty work, freeing up his countryman to concentrate on conducting the attack, or so the logic went.
Mourinho, however, never gave him that opportunity. Whereas Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Michael Carrick and even Wayne Rooney have gotten extended looks at central midfield alongside Pogba, Schneiderlin has remained on the sidelines. Even Juan Mata, who Mourinho famously isolated and then sold while at Chelsea, has received a second look. Obviously, there are some unknown factors at play here. Maybe Mourinho has seen some things in training from Schneiderlin that he doesn’t like. Maybe Mourinho has been told he has to sell before he can add to the squad, and Schneiderlin is the easiest person to offload.
Or maybe Schneiderlin is simply a victim of Mourinho’s stated desire for “specialists.” Schneiderlin is versatile, but that quality could be working against him in Mourinho’s eyes. After all, he’s a decent holding midfielder, but not a great one. He’s a decent passer, but nowhere near Carrick’s caliber. He’s a strong physical presence, but isn’t as aggressive as Herrera, nor does he provide specific advantages in the air or on set plays like Fellaini. In fact, you can argue that Schneiderlin’s best position is the one that Pogba is currently playing – and we all know he’s not starting over the £89 million man (nor should he – given Pogba’s talent and outstanding recent form).
In the end, it might just be a case of “wrong place, wrong time” for Schneiderlin. Then again, maybe he’ll thrive now that he’s at a club that really wants him – rather than one that had to be convinced into buying him.