Morgan Schneiderlin feature: From ‘Rolls Royce’ to ‘Scapegoat’ & the text that brought him to Australia

Western Sydney’s new signing isn’t afraid to be open about the emotions in playing in football’s elite, writes Tom Smithies

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There are, as you’d expect, plenty of stories when Morgan Schneiderlin sits in the Sydney sunshine and looks back on a career of hundreds of games, most at the pinnacle of European football in the Premier League, the Champions League and even a World Cup.

But there’s more than mentions of big games and top opponents from a player whose honesty and perspective combine for a rare insight into the mental pressures of football at the highest level.

From a teenager’s joy at playing football for joy, there is the torment of a player of instinct trying to second-guess the demands of an authoritarian manager; followed by the frustration of giving everything all week at training only to be abused – “made a scapegoat” – by fans of your club who have taken against you no matter what.

Not that Western Sydney’s midfield acquisition has many regrets, in a career where he fulfilled most ambitions, played at a World Cup and was at one stage coveted by a number of Europe’s top clubs.

Morgan Schneiderlin playing for France at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

But footballers aren’t automatons, and the words Schneiderlin uses to describe the points where football was “a pleasure” are as revealing as the moment where he shakes his head and remembers that “I should have been the most happy man in the world”.

It’s a case study that should be central to a coaching manual, in a chapter about understanding your players and allowing them to be their best.

For Schneiderlin that best came at Southampton and particularly under Mauricio Pochettino, who harnessed the physical and creative gifts of a young French midfielder who had signed for the club just after it fell from the EPL.

Southampton’s French player Morgan Schneiderlin (L) fights for the balll with Manchester City’s Argentinian player Carlos Tevez on August 19, 2012 during an English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Southampton at the City of Manchester Stadium in Manchester, northwest England . AFP PHOTO/IAN KINGTON RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE. No use with unauthorised audio, video, data, fixture lists, club/league logos or “live” services. Online in-match use limited to 45 images, no video emulation. No use in betting, games or single club/league/player publications. (Photo credit should read IAN KINGTON/AFP/GettyImages)

“It was fun, the best time of my career because the bond in the team was amazing,” he says. “We knew each other very well outside the football and on the pitch it was a joy to play.

“My role was not just defensive or offensive, you know, we all complemented each other very well – like you said, to play with players who were speaking the same (football) language as me. Amazing years.

“Since the first time Pochettino came into the building (in 2013), you could feel an aura, you could feel something in him that was saying, ‘oh this guy is good’. After the first training session, in the first game we played Everton at home, he couldn’t speak the language but he gave us a speech. 

“I think he said lion maybe five times! We were running everywhere, we were doing like crazy stuff on the pitch and he gave us an energy, amazing energy.

“The best coach I had in my career. He ticked every box that you want from a manager for me, as a human being, how he managed a team tactically. It was a pleasure to play with him.”

His choice of words is interesting, especially “as a human being”. Schneiderlin has described previously the way Louis Van Gaal, once Manchester United had secured his services in 2015, gave him a far more prescribed role in the United team, essentially a reactive, defensive presence. Schneiderlin had forsaken a reunion with Potchettino at Tottenham to sign for what he always saw as the biggest club of all.

What’s interesting is how Schneiderlin now describes the effect that had on his personality, his belief as a footballer, right at the point when he was a big-money acquisition from whom the United fans were expecting instant impact.

“First, I would say that Manchester United is the biggest club in the world, you know, so I cannot have any regrets because you realize how big this club is when you wear the shirts, when you can feel the support of everyone,” he says.

“So for me it was a dream come true and I will never regret this choice. But I had spoken with Pochettino almost every day; my heart was telling me go there, but the call from the biggest club in the world, you cannot refuse. 

“But (with Van Gaal), as much as I respect the person, on the pitch I feel restricted. When you think too much about what the manager wants, about if it’s going to please him the way you pass the ball and everything, that’s where your game starts to go down. 

“And as much as now I tell myself, Morgan you should not have think too much about it, you should have played your game at the moment, I couldn’t really feel free.

“The first month was good, you know, I was playing good in pre-season and and then after I had a bit of a ‘down’. I don’t know why (but) mentally, physically, I was a bit down.

“I should have been the most happy man in the world, but like I said, this feeling to be not myself on the pitch, I was not really happy with it.

“Then we had the Euro 2016 (Championships with France), I came back, I had a great feeling with Jose Mourinho, great feeling.

“He told me he liked me, I liked him as well, I wanted to play more with him and he told me to be patient. But then Ronald Koeman was calling me every day.”


Most of us want to feel loved, and Koeman had treated Schneiderlin like Pochettino did after succeeding the Argentine at Southampton. So his attempts years later to convince the player to quit United and join Everton fell on receptive ears.

“Everton was and is maybe still an ambitious club,” Schneiderlin notes now. “Koeman called me and told me, ‘You’ll be the centre of the project, please come’, every day. I just say, ‘Okay, I prefer to go there than staying in Manchester United’.

“Is it wrong? Is it good? Should I have been more patient? You can ask yourself 25 times the same question.

“But my first six months at Everton were very, very good. I was playing with Romalu Lukaku, with Ross Barkley. We had a very good second part of the season and I was playing very, very well, one of my best in years.

Schneiderlin with Romalu Lukaku at Everton.

“For the first six months, they were calling me the Rolls Royce, saying amazing things about me.

“But the club after two or three months sack the manager and they have no plan after it because they put in the second team coach, Dave Unsworth, and he had a way to play more, let’s say long ball, different than Ronald Koeman… well my world was different.

“And then they bring Sam Allardyce and then you have Marco Silva and then you go back to a different manager – you change another way of playing and then you rechange another way, so you have no stability.

“Maybe I was the scapegoat because I (first) had a great season, then I didn’t go quite okay, (then) I was playing well again, and then when the team has bad results, okay, it’s my fault again.

“So I felt a bit like this, a scapegoat, because maybe they were expecting a lot. But what I can say is that whatever they say, I’m a person – and you can ask anyone in any football club I’ve been to – I have always been one of the most professional guys.

“I always trained myself very, very hard, I always do my best and I never had someone that felt I was not doing the right thing.

“People from outside, they judge you on the weekend, they judge you because you lose, they can speak crap about you about the weekend.

“But they don’t see you every day and me, what I know is that every day, I gave my best, every day I was trying to turn things around. Because it was not just me, everyone was confused of what was happening.

“So (those) fans can say whatever they want. Me, I know and the players that I played with, they know, and that’s for me the most important thing because they know that I’m not lying.”


So now, after two-and-a-half years back in France, he has the chance of another adventure. Various offers around Europe had, he says, left him a little cold, until he finished training one day to find a message asking if he’d be interested in playing in Australia.

The fact it came from Fahid Ben Khalfallah, the former Melbourne Victory forward turned player agent, helped, as did encouragement from Western Sydney’s existing contingent of players with experience of playing in France.

His wife’s response was an instant “Why not?”, and suddenly – after featuring in heated derbies for Southampton, United and Everton – he is likely to be involved in the Sydney iteration.

“The staff, the persons involved in the club, everyone told me that I come at one of the best moments because the stadium will be full for this game,” he says.

“I know how much our fans are very supportive of the team. So I’m looking forward to having a stadium with full capacity and it’s going to be the first game in front of my family as well.

“At my age now I need something that every day when I come to training ground, I will be happy and I want to get better every time. So to mark, to print, my name in this league, that’s what I want to do.”