Morgan Schneiderlin is leaving Manchester United. Is anyone going to miss him? Probably not. And that might be the biggest shame of all.
Signed for £25 million in July 2015, Schneiderlin’s arrival prompted an understandable excitement amongst United fans. Louis van Gaal had signed one of the best players in the Premier League. A gritty, talented, hard-working midfield player who would improve Manchester United and could help them improve on the fourth place finish in van Gaal’s first season.
The expectations and the reality could not have been more different.
Schneiderlin started 33 matches in his first season at Old Trafford, 25 of them in the Premier League, but has been cast aside by Jose Mourinho. Isolated and outcast, the Frenchman has featured in just three league matches since Mourinho took over; a grand total of eleven minutes. To fall out of favour so fast seems remarkable, yet the complaints surrounding his omission have been few and far between.
So where did it all go wrong?
Well, it’s actually hard to say. Schneiderlin didn’t actually put a foot wrong on too many occasions. He was neat and tidy on the ball, strong in the tackle and a reliable cog in the midfield machine. Schneiderlin was a real ‘steady Eddie’. Nothing spectacular, but he did his job and he did it well.
The problem he found was more emotional than it was statistical. By being reliable but unremarkable, he wasn’t memorable. There was no connection with the fans, no moment in which he stamped his authority on a match, he never truly arrived as a Manchester United player.
It wasn’t for the want of trying. Schneiderlin had enough opportunities to make his mark. In October 2015, Schneiderlin started in a Manchester derby at Old Trafford. Had United won the game, they would have returned to the top of the Premier League. A drab 0-0 draw left them in fourth. In March 2016, Schneiderlin was again selected for the Manchester derby, but instead of challenging for the title, United need to win to keep their Champions League hopes alive. United did win, but Schneiderlin was merely a member of the supporting cast, outshone by many of his teammates on that particular occasion.
His performances were symptomatic of his time at Manchester United. Two clean sheets, fine defensive work, but nothing significant in either display that made anyone sit up and take notice. When the prizes were handed out at the end of the season, Schneiderlin was not considered. Not involved in either the semi-final or the final of the FA Cup as United celebrated success in the sunshine at Wembley.
He was fully deserving of the opportunity, though. His form at Southampton was exceptional over a period of two or three seasons, improving year on year as the Saints established themselves as a Premier League club. His tireless work in front of the back four was so impressive, he almost single-handedly convinced Liverpool to sanction a £20 million move for defender Dejan Lovren, who immediately struggled for form and consistency without the Frenchman putting out fires in front of him.
But to make the step up to Manchester United is something different. To reach the required levels at that club Schneiderlin needed to do more. A talented defensive midfielder, yes, but is that enough? He was billed as the heir to Michael Carrick’s throne, the man who could take over the mantle and lead the United midfield for years. But there’s a reason Michael Carrick has been so important, so influential to United for more than a decade. He’s proved almost impossible to replace because to replace him would mean signing a player who can do more than just defend. Carrick is a conductor, a creator, a firefighter and a protector, all in one while acting as a calming influence on all those around him. He has redefined the role he occupies, while Schneiderlin merely offers his take on it.
Statistically, the 27-year-old has performed well enough to suggest he is worthy of a second full season at United at another run in the first team. Compared to Michael Carrick, Schneiderlin won more tackles, made more interceptions and completed a high percentage of his passes. As a holding midfielder, a defensive screen in front of the back four, Schneiderlin continued to post impressive numbers at United.
Unfortunately, he comes up short in one area that demonstrates perfectly why he lacks the necessary quality to be a Manchester United player. When Michael Carrick receives the ball, his first thought is to play it forward. His ability to start an attack and break opposition lines from a deep position on the field is almost unparalleled. For Schneiderlin, passing the ball to a teammate was enough. So while he may have kept the ball better than Carrick, he didn’t use it nearly well enough.
The tale of Morgan Schneiderlin’s time at Manchester United will always be a disappointing one. A player who’s unfulfilled promise will forever leave a tinge of regret that it didn’t quite work out the way we all wanted it to. He shouldn’t be labelled a flop but the moniker ‘just not good enough’ might stick with him longer than he would like. Everton will be a good fit, there’s no doubt about that. A reunion with a manager who truly believes in him, a set of fans who will adore his hard-working, tough-tackling and physical approach to the game and a club who’s expectations are more in keeping with the quality of the player they are signing. After an underwhelming 18 months at Manchester United, Morgan Schneiderlin may have finally found a happy home. At last.