Crunching last ditch tackles, calculated yellow cards and a perfectly crafted French beard; I’m of course talking about Morgan Schneiderlin. It’s now been 163 days since the Frenchman left for Manchester United – obsessed? I hear you ask. Maybe, and the task of replacing our defensive midfielder of seven years is proving rather difficult, nigh on impossible in all honesty.
To the average football fan, the £27M deal to Manchester United last summer plays testament to Schneiderlin’s talent. However, to us Southampton fans, he was far more than just the (brilliant) central link in the spine of our team. Schneiderlin embedded himself into the Southampton family and became one of the poster boys for our rise to the Premier League. We were all watching on when he arrived as a weedy 18-year-old, making it all the better to see him tame the Premier League’s finest attackers.
Through growing up with the club and the players around him, Schneiderlin managed to learn each player and his own game inside out. He knew exactly where to be, where to order others and where to recycle the ball. He knew that if Nathaniel Clyne was about to bomb forward, he would release the ball and pull wide without a seconds thought. He knew that if there was a gap on the edge of the box, Adam Lallana would glide inside from the wide areas; his game was played by instinct and my god did he do it well. Games would pass by where his influence on the match seemed minimal; in truth, he was often so perfectly positioned that rarely, not even for a split second was he caught out. They say the best defensive midfielders go unnoticed. He was always there, picking up through balls, chopping down an overlapping fullback and switching the play.
The combination of an incredible talent with years of experience was on show for all to see when under the Premier League’s spotlight. For Schneiderlin to be replaced sufficiently, we would need a midfielder with greater talent, in order to make up for the loss in his understanding of Southampton, tactics in place and those around him. We simply can’t attract a player of that quality; our midfield is weaker and that’s the way that it will stay for now. As a fan of an ambitious Football Club, it’s hard to come to terms with.
To put it into facts, Southampton have conceded 21 Premier League goals in 17 fixtures this season. Last season – with Morgan Schneiderlin – Southampton only conceded 33 goals in 38 games. If we continue in this fashion then we are scheduled to concede 47 goals. 47.
Then let’s take a look at Manchester United. With Morgan Schneiderlin in the side, they have played nine games, winning six and drawing three. All whilst averaging 0.33 goals conceded per game.
Without Schneiderlin? Eight games, two wins, two draws and four defeats. Averaging 1.875 goals conceded per game. If his influence on a side wasn’t clear to see by the naked eye, it certainly is when printed in black and white.
There has been much talk about summer recruit Jordy Clasie being the one to fill Morgan’s boots, despite the fact the Dutchman’s qualities are that of a roaming playmaker. Whilst his technical ability is clear to see and his name now fills the gap where Morgan’s used to be, he can’t carry out the same destructive midfield role. As a result, a forced change of system and time needed for integration has affected our results and performances.
For Clasie, also read fellow Frenchman Giannelli Imbula of Porto; another name that has been tipped as the must-have replacement for Morgan.
Fans have been fixated with finding the player that they can name “The Next Morgan”, but sometimes however, the boots are too big to fill. Sometimes, you simply can not replace. Look to Gareth Bale at Tottenham Hotspur, Luis Suarez at Liverpool and on a smaller scale, Christian Benteke at Aston Villa. All four of the above players were picked up as young prospects that flourished during their time at their respected clubs – sadly, bigger clubs come calling for the bigger players. The cycle goes on.
Rather than looking to fill the gap that Schneiderlin left behind, we need to look forward and rebuild. Aiming to replace this exact position and role will only result in failure as a comparison to what we have seen with the Frenchman. It’s time to build a new role that is better suited to the players at our disposal.
Where we have gone against the odds in the past and replaced when many believed it to be an impossible task, we may have to admit defeat this time. There is no harm in doing so when we know that Morgan Schneiderlin is a world class footballer.