It may have come a little too late for the liking of Everton manager Ronald Koeman, but on Thursday the Toffees boss finally got his man, as the club completed a deal for Morgan Schneiderlin from Manchester United.
Although the Frenchman wasn’t at Goodison Park in time to prevent the team’s FA Cup exit to Leicester City on Saturday, he’s poised to become a vital part of the Everton midfield for the rest of the Premier League season. But most significantly for the Merseyside outfit, a linchpin within Koeman’s long-term vision for the Toffees.
Schneiderlin’s struggles at Old Trafford were a big surprise for those who have monitored his career closely. Whether stepping up from Strasbourg to Southampton or facing up to the test of a higher division when ascending through the Football League with the latter, the Frenchman is someone that’s taken challenges serenely in his stride.
After former United boss Louis van Gaal lured him to the club along with Bastian Schweinstegier, Schneiderlin was poised to become the lungs of a revamped Red Devils midfield. With Arsenal and Liverpool also linked to the player, he was deemed a significant coup, even for a team of United’s calibre.
But the pedestrian passing style moribundly utilized by the Dutch boss didn’t align well with Schneiderlin’s robust skill-set and inconsistency riddled his game throughout 2015-16. Peculiarly, new boss Jose Mourinho was not a fan either, despite his strive to find footballers with both brains and brawn.
Subsequently, Schneiderlin finds himself at Everton, where for the first time as a player, his career is not on an upward trajectory. Nevertheless, his acquisition has been met with widespread delight by those who frequent Goodison Park.
Indeed, it’s rare for a fanbase to be in such unanimous agreement about the capture of a player that’s been so out of favor with his previous employer. But Schneiderlin ticks a lot of boxes for this Toffees team.
Most have fresh memories of the player that was so coveted before his turbulent time up the M62. After all, under Koeman at St Mary’s, it’s not sensationalist to say Schneiderlin was one of the best midfielders in the Premier League.
The Frenchman grew into a colossal presence at Southampton, first under Mauricio Pochettino, who tried to bring him to Tottenham in 2015, and then under his new manager. Defensively, Schneiderlin gets through a gargantuan amount of work, spotting danger, clattering into tackles and, against the Premier League’s more agricultural outfits, dominating in the air too.
Remarkably, despite his recent marginalization, no player has made more tackles and interceptions (668) in the Premier League than Schneiderlin since Southampton’s promotion to the division in 2012-13.
His technical skills are undervalued too. Next to a thoroughbred holding midfielder like Victor Wanyama at Southampton, there was an onus on Schneiderlin to knit play together at the hub of the team. Given the magnitude of his defensive contribution, the 27-year-old’s ability to take the ball in tight areas, burst forward and distribute with precision have been overlooked in assessments.
Of course, these traits have not been seen quite as frequently since his switch to United. But that multifaceted footballer can surely be drawn out again a year-and-a-half on from his big money switch.
Koeman evidently believes so. While Pochettino deserves a share of the credit for the Frenchman’s development, it was the former Barcelona defender who helped Schneiderlin cement his status as one of the stars of the division.
And now, you sense Koeman will have no problem dropping him straight into the nexus of an Everton side that has been many stylistic shades removed from where the manager wants them to be.
The coach wants a side that plays with high intensity, aggression and physicality as its key mantras. Gareth Barry, whose legs are beginning to look a little weary having carried the Everton midfield for so long, cannot flourish in that kind of setup any longer. James McCarthy is too injury prone to rely on and 18-year-old Tom Davies, while impressive in his recent appearances, a little to green.
Whereas Schneiderlin, in partnership with the omnipotent Idrissa Gueye, has the feel of a Koeman midfield setup.
While Koeman needs more multipurpose players in other areas of his squad, the middle of the pitch is often where the identity of a team is forged. And while there have been plenty of criticisms aimed at the Dutchman early in his Everton tenure, the most pertinent, perhaps, is the absence of a stylistic thread throughout the season.
Schneiderlin will help provide that. Both Pochettino and Koeman have sought to build dynamic sides with the midfielder at the core and the defensive aptitude and energy in a potential Schneiderlin-Gueye double pivot should allow Everton to wrestle control from most in the middle third of the field.
The move will present challenges to Schneiderlin, the most significant being how he reacts to the first major disappointment in his career. But a familiar face on the sideline, a key role in the XI and a style of play that’s attuned to his attributes can expedite the retrieval of one of the division’s formerly star all-rounders.
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