“When I signed for Manchester United, I wanted to play every single match, to perform well all the time,” Schneiderlin told French newspaper L’Equipe in May 2016. “I am therefore not totally satisfied. I am not happy, I am in between.”
In hindsight, that was as good as it got. From disappointment at starting 25 league games in his first season to disillusionment at being abandoned by Jose Mourinho. Seven months on, Schneiderlin will become the first high-profile departure of the Mourinho era. Five minutes against Arsenal and Bournemouth and a single minute against Swansea represent the midfielder’s entire Premier League work all season. While supporters cheered Bastian Schweinsteiger’s cameo against West Ham in November, Schneiderlin has been shuffled out of an Old Trafford side door.
If Mourinho’s mind had not already been made up, the final decision came after Schneiderlin started in Europa League defeats against Feyenoord and Fenerbahce in September and November. In each case, Schneiderlin was joined by Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba in a midfield that wilted under the lightest pressure. Of that trio, he was always the likely scapegoat.
There is an argument that Schneiderlin was not given a fair crack of the whip by Mourinho, a manager intent on clearing the stench of Louis van Gaal’s slow, ponderous football. Of the ten players signed on permanent deals for a fee under Van Gaal, only Herrera and Matteo Darmian can be truly happy with their progress this season. Some (Daley Blind and Marcos Rojo) have been used as injury cover, while others (Anthony Martial, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Luke Shaw) have seen chances limited by form and fitness. Memphis Depay will join Schneiderlin in leaving Old Trafford this month, while Angel di Maria did so 18 months ago. They are an unhappy band of brothers.
Yet any claims of mistreatment would be weak; the reality is that Schneiderlin and Manchester United never truly connected. Bought as the ideal long-term replacement for Michael Carrick, the Frenchman failed to establish himself as a key player under Van Gaal and dropped from the radar entirely under Mourinho. Those 25 league starts in 2015/16 masked Schneiderlin being left on the bench for key fixtures: Leicester City (h), Chelsea (a), Arsenal (a), Liverpool (h), FA Cup quarter-final, FA Cup semi-final, FA Cup final.
Given the competition for his place at Old Trafford last season, that says little for Schneiderlin’s form. Carrick was 34, Schweinsteiger struggling with injury, Pogba still in Italy and Marouane Fellaini still Marouane Fellaini. Valued central midfielders just don’t get rested for big games.
The statistics do offer a defence of Schneiderlin’s United form. In the league last season, United took 1.92 points per game when he started (enough to finish ahead of Arsenal in second) and only 1.38 points per game without him, but splitting that into pre- and post-Christmas matches indicates the Frenchman’s role in Van Gaal’s demise: Schneiderlin started in four key league defeats in 2016.
This is a rare move after which all parties should be content. Ronald Koeman publicly implored Everton to complete a deal for his former player, and will be delighted to have finally seen some action from the club’s hierarchy. Manchester United have sold a player for more than £20m for only the fourth time in their history, addressing a recent inability to sell unwanted assets for significant fees. Schneiderlin has a chance to prove all over again that he is one of the finest central midfielders in the Premier League. There was a reason that United paid £25m in 2015, and surprised nobody in doing so.
Everton may just be the perfect rehabilitation centre for a central midfielder down on his luck. At Southampton, Ronald Koeman used a 4-2-3-1 formation in which a combative central midfield pair were key to the team’s success. Southampton remained compact when out of possession, Schneiderlin and Wanyama shielding a defence that conceded only 33 league goals.
No player in the Premier League that season made more tackles and interceptions per 90 minutes than Schneiderlin. Even in 2015/16, he ranked third for tackles at Manchester United despite ranking seventh for minutes played. In his final three years at Southampton, no Premier League player made more tackles.
This season, Everton are the joint-highest tacklers in the Premier League following Koeman’s arrival, but the Dutchman has struggled to mirror his Southampton system with Everton’s personnel. Idrissa Gueye is enjoying Koeman’s 4-2-3-1, but the the workload is finally proving too much for an ageing Gareth Barry. In 2014/15, Schneiderlin tackled every 22.76 minutes and intercepted every 34.68. Barry’s averages this season are 29.34 and 59.96 minutes respectively, but he is slowing down. Schneiderlin’s arrival would give added protection for the defence, and allow Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines to attack without leaving their side vulnerable to the counter-attack.
Schneiderlin is not just a firefighter. Of all the central midfielders to complete 1,000 or more passes in 2014/15, only three had a higher pass success than his 89.3%. That statistic indicates both an eye for the artistic and a willingness to play the water carrier role, taking the ball from a central defender or full-back and passing it simply into the feet of an attacking midfielder. Ross Barkley may be an indirect beneficiary of Schneiderlin’s arrival,
‘Six years of an amazing journey’ may have been ‘DESTROYED’ at Southampton, or so the angry tweet read, but 15 months in Manchester did just as much damage to Schneiderlin’s reputation. At Everton, under the wing of an old friend, he has a shot at redemption. There is no shame in thriving as a bigger fish in the smaller pond. A failed dream move doesn’t have to spell long-term disaster.