In a comprehensive, exclusive interview with France Football, Manchester United’s new defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin reflects on his summer move to the Red Devils and looks ahead to EURO 2016.
Take us through your emotions during the moment you signed for Manchester United on the 13th July…
Before signing, there were lots of negotiations between clubs, with the agents, there were days of doubt too. We were asking ourselves if this was actually going to happen. Since January, we had been talking about this transfer, so we had time to prepare ourselves.
And then, just like that, one evening, I went from Southampton’s pre-season training camp in Austria to Manchester. The day after, everything went very quickly: medical in the morning, then the papers were drawn up quickly because we were leaving for the United States at the beginning of the afternoon.
My heart was pounding hard, but I signed the contract as if I was signing an autograph. In the midst of it, I was given club kit and we left for the airport to take a flight to North America.
During this long journey, things must have been going on in your head…
What has happened to me, it is fantastic! I have fought for this all my life. It has come at the right moment, at an age where I am mature. When I was 17 or 18, some big clubs were interested in me, but I was not yet ready.
What I have been through in the last year, it is incredible! I had my first start for the French national team, during the 2014 World Cup against Ecuador, at the Maracana.
Then there was my failed departure from Southampton. And today, I am at Manchester United, the biggest club in the world. In England, we say: “Everything happens for a reason”. It is truly extraordinary! Everything that I have been through during my career explains why I am here today.
Close your eyes and tell us what Manchester United represents for you in terms of your story…
Old Trafford, Ferguson, Beckham, Cantona, the biggest club in the world, the Red Devils: all of that! It is impossible to describe this club with only one word. When I was young, we were all routing a bit for David Beckham, we loved his haircut, his free kicks. I followed his progress, I loved this player.
The European Cup match that enchanted me the most, was Manchester United vs Real Madrid in 2003, in the quarter-final return leg in the Champions League. 4-3 for Manchester United! Beckham scored a brace and Ronaldo scored a hat-trick. When the Brazilian was replaced, Old Trafford gave him a standing ovation. This match was pure joy; there was such intensity to it!
You cited Éric Cantona, who played for Manchester from 1992 to 1996. You were only a kid then?
I have seen videos of him. I love them! I love these types of footballers who have character, a personality. You need players like that. Cantona says what he thinks. I watched interviews with him that made me laugh. I loved that type of arrogance he showed when he scored and looked upon the fans.
And you, are you a new Roy Keane in the making?
I hope to become one. Because he is a legend here. Aside from that, he has a different personality to me. I speak less than he did on the pitch. But I hope to one day have the same impact that he had on the team. His scuffles with Patrick Vieira, when United and Arsenal were competing with each other, they were memorable. I watched a documentary on the rivalry between the two, it was interesting.
And what of the atmosphere at Old Trafford?
When I arrive in a stadium, I do not have a walk on the pitch before warming up. The first time that I came here was with Southampton in 2012/13. When I came out of the tunnel, I discovered such an impressive stadium, so big that I was forced to look into the stands.
We lost 2-1, but we played a fantastic match. The fans applauded us and Alex Ferguson said: “Southampton are the best team that we have played against this season.” At Old Trafford, the pitch is magnificent. It is the most mythical of stadia.
You might get to experience the Champions League for the first time, if you get past the play-offs…
It is that Champions League music that we want to be hearing. In these past years, when there was the Champions League on a Tuesday or a Wednesday, I would always prepare myself a good meal and I would watch this legendary competition. I have always dreamt of playing in it.
If we can qualify for the group stage, it will be exceptional, with lots of emotions. It is up to me to show that I have the qualities to play in it.
How did you feel when Louis van Gaal contacted you this summer?
I was on holiday with my girlfriend and my friends. My agent called me to tell me that Louis van Gaal was going to call me. I kept my phone close to me for the whole day. Louis van Gaal sent me a text message to ask if he could call me in the afternoon.
I responded to him saying that he could call me whenever he wanted. His words were honest, frank and direct, he explained to me what Manchester United was, all the anticipation that was here, that when I would be at pre-season training in the United States with Manchester United that I would realise what type of club that I was getting involved with.
He is super strict, but it is like that that one progresses. He painted the picture for me, he told me that it was important that I was all ears, with a desire to always improve, to work hard. He explained to me how he operates and how he wanted Manchester United to play.
During the tour in America, where you played in four matches, notably against Barca and PSG, were you able to really get a sense of what Manchester United represents?
It certainly had an impact on me, walking through the tunnel for the first friendly of this tournament. I looked around me and I understood. You have to understand that when Manchester United play in the United States, even against Barca or against another big club, out of the 80,000 spectators, 70,000 are there for United. All these people with the red shirt who were shouting our names, it was fantastic!
Especially during the first friendly game, against Club America, I scored in the fifth minute. That liberated me. It was one of the most beautiful feelings of my career, certainly among the tope three with the 2014 World Cup in Brazil and promotion to the Premier League with Southampton in 2012. After that goal, I thought about all the people who I love.
Did you immediately feel comfortable in this team?
Yes, thanks to my previous experiences, I have learned to loosen up, to try things. Before, when I lost the ball, I would think about it a lot. Now, I tell myself that it does not matter, that there will be another to make up for it. Before, I was very superstitious, but I am less and less so. Today, I always put my left sock on before my right sock, but simply as a reflex. Beforehand, it was a real superstition of mine.
I drank water a one specific moment rather than at another, when we did lines of five during the warm-ups, I would put myself in the same position where I was for the previous match if I had played well, if I misplaced a pass, I told myself: “sh**, is this not because I did not put my right sock on before my left?
But, as time passes, you realise that that drives you crazy more than anything else.
Why is Manchester United a great club?
Player management is exceptional. Many people are looking after us. We always have someone available to us, 24 hours a day. I was told straight way: “You, your girlfriend, and your family when they come to see you, you must all be in the best possible place in your life so that on the pitch you can your express yourself fully.”
When we arrived at Manchester airport to leave on the tour in the United States, I experienced the passion of the fans. And, when we arrived at our hotel in America, all our fans were at the entrance. What surprised me, was all the commercial events that we had to do. In the States, two times a week, we dedicated two to three hours to our sponsors. To play here, it is not just about being a professional footballer. There is another dimension.
Have you been able to speak to Wayne Rooney, the emblematic Red Devils player?
Yes, on the flight for North America, and during this trip, we spoke. He was interested in me; he asked me how my transfer transpired. He spoke to me about the town, the different districts, and good addresses…
Why are you wearing the number 28 when you wore the number 4 at Southampton?
There was not much choice. My favourite number, it is the eight. I asked Mata if he wanted to give it to me. As a joke, he answered: “I will give it to you if Rooney gives me the number ten”. But that was not possible.
Can you be a happier man than you are today?
To be at Manchester United, it is a dream, something crazy, there are no words to define it. I keep my feet on the ground; I do not want to get ahead of myself. I am not here as a tourist. I do not want for it to be the case that the only thing that is says on my CV is: “He played for Manchester United.” I will be really happy and proud when I will have won titles with this club.
In October last year, you said: “I remember, four years ago, whilst I was playing in the English 3rd division, I told my father in our family living room: in 2014, I will be in Brazil for the World Cup.” Have you always had this ambition within you?
Yes. I am very, very ambitious. If you are not, you will not get to where you want to be. You always have to come up with goals in order to progress. When I left Strasbourg for Southampton, it was because I thought that I could play more. The club was relegated to Ligue 2 and I went to the English second division.
It was a risky gamble, there are not many players who would make this type of decision. Now, it is happening more and more. There are lots of players who are in a big European club at the age of 16 or 17, but who are loaned out two or three times. Me, when I was a teenager, my aim was not to join a big club.
At Southampton, I experienced the second and third division before discovering the Premier League. I progressed with this club. But one can also say that I was a bit lucky. When Southampton was relegated to the third division, the club was bought up. If that had not happen, I might be playing CFA (French reserve team football) today.
This summer, you were signed for a large amount of money, the third most expensive clubs of the summer window between English clubs…
It proves that I have credibility, it is a payment for my efforts. But I am not obsessed by the price of my transfer. It is a lot, a lot of money, but one should not only think about that. I know that I will not be overlooked when I have bad matches.
A lot of players can be paralysed by the fee of their transfer. But not me. I step back from all that.
Have you ordered a Ferrari or a Porsche this summer?
No, because it is not I who got all that money! (laughs) The only thing that I want, is to make my loved ones happy.
Have you bought your parents a house?
They do not want to leave their current house. They are humble people, they do not want to take advantage of me because I am a footballer.
Several players from Ligue 1 have signed in England? Has the Premier League become the NBA of football?
Yes. Even if not a single English club made it to the final of the Champions League in the last three seasons, the Premier League, is the league that we enjoy the most. You never know who is going to win, there is a certain intensity to it, a desire.
When you are going to play in Bournemouth, you enjoy yourself, it is crazy. It is a tiny stadium where the atmosphere is extraordinary. Aston Villa have an incredible stadium. The infrastructure of English clubs, the stadia and the training centres, are exceptional. And the way in which footballers are considered as well. Me, I have no advice to go anyone.
In France, the coaches are superb. The youth academies in France are maybe even better than in England, from a technical perspective. But for me, when you are a footballer, it is England.
Yes but when you sign for Leicester, Bournemouth, Crystal Palace…
But Crystal Palace, it is a very good club. There is also Swansea who play very good football, with a very nice stadium. In the Premier League, with the TV rights and the financial capabilities of all the clubs, there are only very good players. And the gap between the clubs is going to reduce even more.
Is it not surprising for you that established Ligue 1 players are signing for English clubs that are considered average?
Those who say that do not understand these players’ situation. I can only respond to them in one way: “If you are a footballer, spend a year in England and then you will see”. I was often told that Southampton was a small team. Well, this season, they are going to play in the Europa League.
For you, is there not contest between a club in the middle of the Premier League table and one in Ligue 1?
I am not hear to judge the level of the technical qualities of teams. But, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of an ability to drawn in great players, in terms of enjoyment, I think that there is no contest.
Do you not harbour some sort of feeling of revenge because not a single big French club picked you up when you were young or came to get you since then?
If they did not come and get me, it is because I surely was missing something. And as soon as I lived in England, I would have found it difficult to come back to France. I wanted to continue here. And I am just happy to prove to people who doubted me that they were wrong.
After all that I have experienced during my career, I am strong mentally.
You have started 9 games for the French national team and, since the end of the 2014 World Cup, you have played in 7 games for Les Bleus. Do you think that you are in Didier Deschamps’ good books?
I respect him a lot. He gave me my chance. He will always be important because he is the one that threw me into the big blue sea, it is he who believed in me for the World Cup. I was a reserve, and when Clément Grenier got injured, he could have chosen another player.
For the moment, he is picking me every time, which means he has confidence in me. I need to prove to him that he is right to do so. I was sad not to be able to be there for the last time the squad assembled, due to my knee injury.
Last October, we asked you tell us how your dream match would play out. Without hesitation, you talked about the final of EURO 2016 and a 3-0 victory…
Of course, for all things concerning the French national team, the dream, is to win the next thing, I close my eyes, the first thing, is the Euros. But now, when I close my eyes, the first thing that I want, is to see my name on the squad list for the Euros. And, then, to win it.
Would it be a disappointment for you if you were not a starter at EURO 2016 if we consider your rise in strength?
It would be a disappointment and a personal failure not to be in the squad for the Euros. Aside from that, every player wants to start. But you can not have qualms, that is not possible.