With six months under his belt at Everton and half a season in which he was able to assess the needs of the squad he inherited from Roberto Martinez, Ronald Koeman had identified central midfield as one of the areas that needed urgent strengthening in the January 2017 transfer window.
Idrissa Gueye, the Blues' star signing of the previous summer, had jetted off to the Africa Cup of Nations for at least four weeks; James McCarthy, Muhamed Besic and Darron Gibson were all battling injuries and Tom Cleverley had failed to convince the new manager that he was the answer in an important area of the pitch.
With Morgan Schneiderlin, arguably the standout player under Koeman at Southampton before he was bought by Manchester United, out of favour at Old Trafford, it seemed logical that the pair reunite at Everton.
Ultimately, the Blues fended off interest from West Bromwich Albion and a reported approach from Marseille for the 27-year-old who was signed on a 4½-year contract after a fee of
£20m, rising to £24m if appearance-related add-ons are triggered, was agreed.
Schneiderlin had already spent almost a decade in England having signed for Southampton from Strasbourg in 2008 for
£1.2m. He was a prominent member of the Saints side that gained promotion to the Premier League in 2012 and had blossomed into one of the division's best defensive midfielders by the time Mauricio Pochettino left St Mary's Stadium and Ronald Koeman took the reins.
He attracted the attention of former United boss Louis van Gaal in the summer of 2015 and, billed as a long-term successor to Michael Carrick, made a
£24m switch to the northwest, a fee that would have topped £27m had he met certain appearance-related add-ons.
His first and only goal for the Red Devils followed in October – coincidentally, it came against Everton at Goodison Park in a 3-0 win
– but he failed to impress Van Gaal's successor year while Carrick has remained a vital part of the United team.
Under Mourinho, Schneiderlin played less than 2½ hours of competitive first-team football for United and just 11 minutes in the Premier League. The Old Trafford hierarchy were keen, nevertheless, to recoup their outlay on the France international and reportedly knocked back offers of
£13m from West Brom and an £19m bid from Everton before a deal closer to their asking price was eventually agreed.
An obvious long-term replacement for Gareth Barry who would turn 36 in 2017 and short-term cover for Idrissa Gueye while he was at the Africa Cup of Nations, Koeman was pleased to have got a deal for Schneiderlin over the line.
"I know the qualities of the player," Koeman said after his reunion with Schneiderlin was confirmed. "I know him as a person and he's really desperate to come to Everton and that's what we need. He's a fast player, a clever player and he's a personality. This is a new step. It's a new future and he will show us his qualities, I am convinced of that."
Schneiderlin, meanwhile, appeared to be similarly excited at the chance to relaunch his career, saying:
"There is a manager in place here that I know, I know he can get the best out of me, I know his style and how he likes to play football," the France international said.
“I've always loved the atmosphere in the stadium. I can't wait to play and to represent this great club.
"I want to put my print on this club and do everything to get Everton where it belongs."
That he certainly did with a series of solid performances that
strengthened the midfield substantially and he was at the heart of a good
unbeaten run after the Goodison derby that saw Everton rise to the top
of the Premier League form table for a few months in the New Year.
However, he missed a few big games with injury and Everton could progress no
higher than 7th in the end.
It was from that point that Morgan's form collapsed. Whether it was his marriage to Camille Sold in the summer of 2017 or some other factor, the drop-off in his performances the following season was alarming. Everton's Europa League campaign fell apart in the same way that their Premier League season would as well, leading to Koeman's sacking.
This would prove critical for the Frenchman's frame of mind as he said later
that he only left Man Utd to play for Koeman again, and spoke of the managerial
disruptions at Everton that followed Koeman's demise.
Schneiderlin was forced to deny reports that he was either "sent away" from training by caretaker boss David Unsworth for a lack of discipline or simply walked out with Kevin Mirallas.
Nevertheless, the Frenchman was omitted from Unsworth's squad
for the first home fixture against Watford, three days after he was sent off in
Lyon for two bookable offences in the Blues' 3-0 defeat.
“The sending off was totally my fault. It was a stupid red card,” he would admit later. “When we got drawn against Lyon, I thought it was a good way for me to show myself for the France national team and it didn't happen. We got battered 3-0. I was frustrated. My mistake."
Sam Allardyce, the second interim manager that season, saw more in Schneiderlin than most did, including a
number of Everton fans who were frustrated by his lack
of effort, accusing him of hiding in games, only passing sideways or
backwards, and lacking commitment in the tackle. His defensive midfield
pairing with Gana became a bellwether of the negativity brought to
Everton's play by Allardyce's appointment as manager, producing a
crescendo of boos from the Goodison faithful when the Frenchman was
brought on as an 80th-minute substitute against
"It eats me like crazy because the most frustrating thing is that image is not myself," he said. "I am an honest guy who works very, very hard. I can have a bad game, or a bad performance, but putting that on me that I don't give a shit, I don't care — that is not who I am."
Surprisingly, rather than make an expected exit in the summer of 2018, Schneiderlin survived the cull that would
follow Allardyce's welcome departure and the even more welcome arrival
of Marcel Brands and Marco Silva, who would briefly breath new life into Everton and, eventually, Schneiderlin.
Though he was involved early in the campaign while loan signing
Andre Gomes recovered from a hamstring injury he had suffered in pre-season, Schneiderlin found himself on the
periphery of the first team while the Portuguese made the central midfield slot alongside Gueye his own. However, on the occasions that Gomes was unavailable in the latter weeks of the season, Schneiderlin stepped in and performed with the kind of displays that made him such a coveted asset at Southampton and early on in his Goodison career, leading to talk that he stay on as an important cog in the Blues' wheel.
However, Schneiderlin performances were rarely outstanding and he was often condemned by Blues fans for
sideways or backwards passing. Injury would eventually disrupt his 2019-20 season, when he was
forced off during Everton's defeat at Arsenal in late February. The midfielder suffered a knee injury and had to undergo surgery to
repair cartilage with at least a two-month spell on the sidelines
extending into the coronavirus shutdown of 2020.
As it turned out, by the time the Premier League was suspended amid the pandemic, Schneiderlin had played his last game for Everton and he was sold to Nice for an officially undisclosed fee
(reported to be around €2,) in late June.
Some years later, he would recall how he came to leave Manchester United for
Everton: “I learned a lot from my departure from Manchester
United. I had played 40 matches the previous season with Manchester,” he
told L’Equipe. “When I come back from the Euros, I take 10 days off and I play very
little for three, four months. Then, I have Ronald Koeman and Everton
who are pushing hard to get me, every day, from October.”
“I will remember it all my life: I should have played against
Liverpool (in October 2016) as starter, and the coach comes to see me.
He tells me he doesn’t feel me inside the group. I tell him that indeed,
with what has happened in the last three months, I am not in it and I
want to go to Everton... I regretted it very quickly.
“Even if it went very well at Everton, when you play for Manchester
United, when you’re at a club like that, it’s not for a moment of doubt
that you have to question everything.”
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* Everton deducted 10 points for PSR breachView full table