Morgan Schneiderlin has laid the blame for his Manchester United struggles with Louis van Gaal’s strict approach and controlling demands.
Schneiderlin had developed a reputation as a dynamic central midfielder during his time at Southampton, particularly under the stewardship of Mauricio Pochettino, earning himself a move to Old Trafford in the summer of 2015.
However, his £25 million move to Manchester United never really worked out, with the club’s performances on the whole receiving widespread criticism as Louis van Gaal demanded a controlled, possession-based and mostly boring style of football that was at odds with the clubs traditions.
Schneiderlin would make 39 appearances for United under Van Gaal, winning the FA Cup in his first season at the club, although he never truly displayed the kind of form that had propelled him to prominence at the Saints.
Speaking about his struggles, the midfielder – now plying his trade at French side Nice – pointed to Van Gaal’s insistence on control as a reason for his decline.
“In pre-season I felt good and played well,” he told The Athletic. “Maybe I didn’t accept the training style that was imposed on me, even if I respect him very much and appreciated him buying me. But I wasn’t ready for this style. A style which was too strict.
“We were told: ‘When you have the ball you have to do this’ instead of playing with my gut like I had done with Pochettino and Koeman. The worse thing for a football player is when you think too much. I started to think: ‘Ah, the manager wants me to do this’. You lose your instinct, your start to force things, you miss passes, you arrive too late for a challenge. Your confidence goes down.
“I would play a very good game and then a very bad game. I wasn’t confident enough. I started to complain to my wife. It hurts me even now that I couldn’t play freely at United. The pressure of the club was no problem to me. I like pressure, I need pressure and adrenaline. The fans were good to me in the street. The problem was me because I knew I had so much to give but I couldn’t give it because I felt restricted.
“Looking back, I shouldn’t have been so upset, but at the time that’s how it was. You had to wait until the manager told you that you could eat. These things work when the players are 19 and 20, but not when you have older players. Van Gaal had proved that he was a top manager, but I don’t think we needed those ideas at the time.”
The Old Trafford faithful quickly grew tired of Van Gaal’s brand of football, and Schneiderlin admitted that the only players who were not affected by the increasing negativity was Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial.
“Yes, it would start after five or ten minutes if you made a bad pass. The team would lose confidence. The most successful players were the young ones who were not bothered by that — Rashford, Martial. They played with freedom and because Martial couldn’t understand what the manager was telling him, he just played with freedom anyway. I wish that was me; just agreeing with everything the manager said.”
Van Gaal was sacked at the end of Schneiderlin’s first season at the club, with Schneiderlin being restricted to just eight appearances under new manager, Jose Mourinho; a situation that saw the midfielder seek a move to Merseyside.
“When the season started, I wasn’t playing much,” he continued. “I knocked on the manager’s door after a month and asked him why. He told me that he was happy with how I was training and I would have a chance in the Europa League. I played against Feyenoord and we lost 1-0. The manager said that I was the only player who played well, but then I didn’t play in the next game.
“By this time, I was thinking that maybe it was the moment to leave. I wanted to play football. Maybe it was a mistake to think like this. You should do everything to succeed at United, but I was impatient. I also had Ronald Koeman calling me asking me to join him at Everton.
“He (Mourinho) said that I would have my chance, but it didn’t happen. He told me that I would get my chance against Liverpool away because I had trained so well, but I got a big dead leg on my quads during the week and couldn’t play. I went to see him again and told him I wanted to leave and join Everton.
“This time, he replied: ‘What can I say? I don’t want a player who doesn’t want to be here.’”