Post by Everton News. on Feb 22, 2017 12:26:04 GMT
Schneiderlin's Pursuit Of Perfection
The below interview first appeared in February’s Everton magazine. To buy or download singles issues, click here. To subscribe, click here.
When Morgan Schneiderlin walked through the gates of Finch Farm last month, he wasted little time in outlining his intentions. “I want to play football for a club with ambition and I think I have found that with Everton,” he said. “It’s a club with big history and big tradition that wants to get to the top again. We want to win silverware and some trophies but we have to take it step-by-step.”
The early signs are positive. Following defeat at Watford in mid-December, a nadir in Everton’s season, Ronald Koeman’s men – bolstered by the January arrival of Schneiderlin and youngster Ademola Lookman – have embarked on a run that has reignited the Club’s European ambitions for this term. Playing with a cohesion and belief that saw Pep Guardiola handed his heaviest ever league defeat as a manager, a solidity and graft that saw a 1-0 result ground out at Crystal Palace and an effervescence that allowed for six goals to be put past Bournemouth, the Blues have looked like a side heading very much in the right direction.
Schneiderlin, too, has impressed since being handed 25 minutes as a substitute against Manchester City, turning in a series of displays as assured and elegant as the Frenchman himself. The 27-year-old is confident, charismatic but in no way smug.
It comes from a grounding that was composed around football. Growing up in Zellwiller, a diminutive town of just 1,000 inhabitants in the Alsace region of north-east France (the only information about it on Wikipedia is that he was born there), his grandfather, Gerard, was one of the founding fathers and the president of the local football club, his father, Albert, was the goalkeeper (a good one too, according to Morgan) while his mother, Caroline, also played the game as a pastime.
“My family say I always had a ball at my feet when I was young and I was playing always at my grandmother’s in the garden and killing all the flowers - I just loved football,” Schneiderlin recalls. “Mine have always been the type of parents who have given me the licence to do what I wanted to do in my life - they let me choose my path. But I fell in love with football watching my dad and, because my family, my cousins and my friends were all playing football, it came naturally.
“At home, my dad was watching games on the TV, my mum not so much, but she always used to come to my games and they’ve always been very good to me. They made a lot of sacrifices to put me in the best possible position to be in training, even if they were working. But it was a normal thing that my family was watching or playing football at the weekend.”
Unlike his father, who was told by his parents to forget his dreams of football and find a ‘proper’ career, Morgan excelled and was soon snapped up by local side Strasbourg. Having taken his father’s advice not to become a goalkeeper, he instead emerged as a defensive midfield player with real talent.
It was a decision that may have been inspired by the 1994 World Cup when, following Brazil’s victory, the young Schneiderlin asked not for a shirt bearing the name of Bebeto or Romario but the skipper, Dunga. He was just five years old.
“My father’s number was ‘8’ because I was born on the 8th, my sister was born on the 8th and there’s a lot of things at the time that meant I loved that number,” Schneiderlin explains. “Even if Dunga was not the type of player who jumped in front of your eyes because of his football, he was captain of Brazil, Brazil was the team that was dominating the world at the time, so I just asked my mum when we were in the market if I could have his shirt and she bought it. I appreciated Dunga as a player but it was more because of the number that he wore.”
Honing the position himself as the years passed, Schneiderlin would go on to make his first-team debut for Strasbourg at just 16 in their centenary game. He wore the number ‘100’ on his back but managed just four more league outings before a tough decision came his way.
“When I was 17, 18 I became a little bit impatient because I knew I had the quality to play and everyone was telling me so but, because the results were not so good, Strasbourg tried to protect me a little bit. I didn’t understand that at the time and I had a lot of clubs coming in for me and I wanted to find something else. I was contacted by the best clubs in the world. I had a lot of clubs who wanted me, who contacted my agent, who offered things to my parents and things like that. It could turn your head but I was lucky to have parents and friends and a sister who always kept my feet on the ground.
“I made the choice to go to Southampton in the English second tier because I thought that I could go up to the Premier League and that I could really put myself in the spotlight with them.”
Despite Schneiderlin making 47 appearances and scoring his first senior goal in his maiden season in England, Southampton finished second bottom of the Championship table and were relegated to League One.
Faced with another dilemma, the then 20-year-old opted to stay at St Mary’s – a choice that paid dividends when, after two seasons in the third tier, the Saints secured back-to-back promotions and a return to English football’s top table.
“When we were relegated, it was a big time. Everyone around me in France was telling me that I needed to go.
“But I was the one responsible for the club going down. With the club having paid big money for me (a reported £1.2m), I couldn’t be there for a year and then leave like nothing had happened. I wouldn’t be able to look myself in the mirror.
“I didn’t understand English then, but I could imagine what people were saying about me – that maybe I was too light or that I wasn’t able to play in the Championship. I had some good games but not all of them, so I wanted people to have a good opinion of me.
“Now, when I look back, I have no regrets. We had such a tight group, we were such friends, it was hard to say you were leaving. It was nice to be able to stay together and it was one of the best moments of my life in football when we were promoted to the Premier League.”
An innate desire to succeed is something that was spotted in Schneiderlin by former Fulham striker Francois Keller, his reserve-team coach at Strasbourg and a good friend who still invites his one-time protégé to annual reunion barbecues at his home in France.
“I remember one game where I had only 11 players, no subs, against Beauvais, the champions of the fourth division,” Keller recalls. “They were men and Morgan was 16 — I put him in defence.
“We lost 7-0. I remember Morgan at half-time, saying, ‘Coach, excuse me, but I am not a defender.’
“I said, ‘I know this, Morgan, but it is quite a small squad today.’ He went back out and tried so hard.”
It gets me crazy when I have a bad game or when I miss a pass. I always try to get perfection.
Thierry Brand, his PE teacher at Jean Monnet High School, also recalls a determined youngster with big aspirations. “He was so hard-working and never complained,” he says. “He was good at volleyball, table tennis, handball... but at football he was so natural — always playing with guys in the year above.”
That hunger to be the best is a trait of which Schneiderlin remains staunchly proud.
“I have dedicated all my life to football, so for me it would have been a failure not to succeed,” he reasons. “Even now, I want to succeed and it gets me crazy when I have a bad game, it gets me crazy when I miss a pass in a game and that was one of the things I had to work on because, when I was young, if I missed a pass, for five or 10 minutes I’d be thinking about that pass and maybe lose my head.
“I just try, even if it’s impossible, to get perfection, try to do the best thing possible and it drives me crazy when I can’t.
“I love football so much. For me, it’s just a joy to kick a ball. For myself, for my family, for everyone who gave me the opportunity to be where I am now, I just can’t give up - I have to be the best player I possibly can be.”
It’s an attitude that will undoubtedly serve him well with the Evertonians who watch from the stands each weekend, not to mention his teammates whom he credits with making him feel like he has already been at the Club for “three or four months”.
Schneiderlin famously learned English by watching episodes of Only Fools and Horses during his early days with Southampton and is slowly but surely getting to grips with Scouse.
“To be honest, it’s not easy,” he says, laughing. “The accent is very different and the people are funny.
“I think I’ll improve my English even more by understanding the accent and it’s something that I love already.
“I was picked up by a taxi driver the other day and he was saying he felt weird in his body when he came into the training ground to pick me up because he was a Liverpool fan. He was telling me about his brother-in-law, who is a big Everton fan and I was trying to wind him up, saying we will catch them in the league. He wanted to drop me off 20 miles before my house! It was funny but I like it that the rivalry exists.”
There’s something else, too, that Schneiderlin will need to get used to. Despite his impressive start to life on Merseyside, the man with 15 caps for France need only look around the dressing room to realise there are more international midfielders in Koeman’s squad than spaces available in the centre of the park.
“Unfortunately, you can’t play with six or seven midfielders but we all have different qualities and there are good ingredients there,” he says, diplomatically. “If one person is missing, someone else will step up for sure. That’s a luxury for the manager to have.
“I studied the team before I arrived here and I knew there were a lot of good players. But that’s good - it makes everyone step up their game and, afterwards, it’s the manager’s choice.
“He’s going to put out what he thinks is the best team possible to win the games. But I relish that. There’s no bad competition and we will accept what the manager decides.”
Ultimately, Schneiderlin believes that Ronald Koeman – someone he knows and respects from spending a successful season together at Southampton – can help him realise his heady ambitions.
“It was important for me to find a club like this,” he says. “Everton is a massive club in England and I have always liked the stadium, so for me it was an easy decision to make. Everyone at the Club has big ambitions. I can feel that some good things are going to happen for me here.”