Morgan lives up to great expectations

Morgan Schneiderlin

Morgan Schneiderlin

by Gordon Simpson , Senior Sports Reporter 5:00pm Wednesday 27th February 2013 in Sport

It was former Saints coach Dean Wilkins who once bestowed the nickname ‘ZZ’ upon Morgan Schneiderlin, in reference to the great French midfielder Zinedine Zidane.

Uncomfortable at being mentioned in the same breath as arguably his country’s most gifted and revered player ever, the general response from a slightly embarrassed Schneiderlin on hearing the tag at the club’s training ground was “no, no, no”.

Despite his protestations, though, Wilkins would persist with the comparison.

“I think he has to have that belief that he can hit those heights and reach that level,” said Wilkins, back in 2009, when he was the assistant to Alan Pardew at St Mary’s.

“We’re all going to try and bring that out in him.

“He’s got that ability to manipulate the ball with both feet, with the inside of his foot, with the outside of his foot.

“However much pressure he’s under he’s got that ability to get out of a tight situation, and Zidane is probably the best there’s ever been for doing that.”

At 23-years-old now, Schneiderlin is still no Zidane. Few, if any, ever will be.

What he has developed into, however, is one of the most promising, and perhaps underrated, young midfielders currently playing in the Premier League.

The contract extension he signed this week, which ties him to St Mary’s until 2017, could hardly be more warranted.

Certainly, the fee of up to £1.2m that Saints agreed to pay when they signed him from RC Strasbourg in 2008 has proved to be a magnificent investment, even if it seemed completely at odds with the club’s fiscal policy at the time.

Despite the cost-cutting that was the order of the day at St Mary’s that particular summer, it was the recommendation of Saints’ highly-regarded former academy coach, Georges Prost, that persuaded then chairmen Rupert Lowe and Michael Wilde to pursue the player.

On completing the signing of the 18-year-old midfielder, both men were buoyant.

Lowe would once even admit in private that he was slightly unsure how they had managed to convince Schneiderlin to join Saints when many higher-profile clubs were also interested in him.

Timing was everything, though. Schneiderlin had been offered the chance to join a Premier League club, believed to be Arsenal, when he was 16.

Sensing he was not ready at that age, he turned down the move.

However, two years later, he felt the time was right to pursue his dream of playing in England’s top-flight, and that Saints, who were then a Championship side, could help him realise that ambition.

It was a daunting move. Schneiderlin could not speak the language and did not know anyone in England.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, he struggled to establish himself in that first season, finding himself in and out of the team, as Saints were eventually relegated to League One under a cloud of administration.

Even then, though, Mark Wotte, who was head coach for the second half of the season, would describe him as “an extraordinary player”.

“The first year was especially hard as we also did not have the best results,” Schneiderlin has said.

However, with Markus Liebherr’s takeover having been completed and Pardew installed as Saints manager in the summer of 2009, the club began moving forward again, and so, too, did Schneiderlin.

It wasn’t an entirely smooth process for him, however.

While Schneiderlin was always technically gifted, the physical side of the game never came naturally to him, and in the unforgiving world of English football’s third tier he sometimes struggled.

“Everyone spoke about my lack of aggressivity when I came here and I agree with that totally,” he once admitted, in honest fashion.

Although Pardew was an instant admirer of Schneiderlin, he was not impressed with the midfielder’s defensive attributes, or lack of them, either.

A process of constant nagging would ensue, and how it has worked.

Schneiderlin, who once shied away from the physical side of the game, is now the Premier League’s most prolific tackler.

Before Sunday’s game with Newcastle, he was the only player in the division to have made more than 100 tackles this season.

In this particular category, Saints’ ‘ZZ’ is top.

After facing his former manager in the 4-2 defeat at Newcastle on Sunday, Schneiderlin revealed that he owes a debt to Pardew for the role he has played in his development.

“He was the one saying to me to improve on my defensive skills,” he said.

“He was the one who was telling me ‘come on, you need more tackling.’ “So, thanks go to him and his words every day saying that to me.”

Schneiderlin’s work rate this season has been immense. A statistical breakdown of his game has shown that, at times, he has run for more than seven miles during a single match.

He also averages in excess of 50 passes per outing, and has an accuracy rate of just below 85 per cent.

Even the goals are now starting to flow.

Schneiderlin’s strike at St James’ Park took his tally for the season to four, a rather impressive total given that, in the four campaigns prior to this one, he had only found the net three times.

Schneiderlin insisted on Sunday that his newfound attacking instincts are not down to luck. Instead, he has been diligently working to improve them.

It is perhaps a mark of the player, though, that before turning his attention to the glory of goalscoring he was determined to sort out the less glamorous side of his game.

“When I first came to England, people were saying you need to improve on your defensive skills, and that’s what I did,” he explained.

“After that they say you need to improve on scoring goals and that’s what every day I was trying to improve. I’m very happy to do so.”

It is increasingly hard to shake the feeling that Schneiderlin is now fast moving towards becoming the complete midfielder.

At his current rate of progression, the call-up to the senior France squad that has so far eluded him may not be far away.

If and when it does arrive, he might finally come to realise that the nickname ‘ZZ’ wasn’t quite so silly after all.

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8:11pm Wed 27 Feb 13 warrens 76 says…

Good work and all due respect spider:.

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8:38pm Wed 27 Feb 13 buckie says…

i remember Morgan"s early performance"s for us which to be truthful were not very impressive but the moment we got to the championship his performance improved dramatically still remember having discussions with other season ticket holders as if he was up to championship level now he is premiership level he reminds me of Stevie Williams a little, 3 points against QPR Saturday please lets put another nail in Harry"s coffin COYS

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1:03am Thu 28 Feb 13 st1halo says…

Good article. He can't be compared to the one and only Zidane but he's our Zidane. He may not have his name sung on the terraces but he is a firm favourite of most if not all Saints fans. It's been great to see him develop into the player he is now, He's an intelligent player, creative, strong and committed. Above all I value his loyalty to the club when times were hard. He is now reaping his just rewards. Thankyou Morgan STID

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9:01am Thu 28 Feb 13 Alicesdad says…

Not a bad article in isolation but this has clearly been Morgan Schneiderlin week as article after article has been about him ... Why not re title the whole site Morgan Schneiderlin News ? No doubt tomorrow we will have Morgan Schneiderlin the early years, his infant school teachers remember his first football match... blah blah blah

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10:50am Thu 28 Feb 13 Malcy says…

Morgan is becoming a great Player, at 23 he's a few years off of "reaching his peak" the wonderful thing is at last there seems to be some loyalty that has been lacking for many years in top Pro Players,Southampton were a selling Club but not anymore, Adkins and his Staff installed a lot of self confidence in 2/3 years to all the Players and they all sing from the same Hymn sheet, they believe the Southampton FC are ambitious and onwards and upwards, Southampton being in the Premiership has helped 100% and can often match wages of other Clubs, Cortese love him or loathe him has a good head for business and Football is big business, he's good for the Club and wants to make the Club one of if not the best in the world and there's nothing wrong with that

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