Three years ago, Morgan Schneiderlin was playing in League 1 – but even then he was aiming to represent France at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
Earlier today, the Saints midfielder was drafted into Didier Deschamps’ squad for this summer’s finals following last-minute injuries to two of his players.
A ticket for Brazil might have seemed an unlikely prospect back in early 2011 but, speaking exclusively to saintsfc.co.uk, Schneiderlin says today’s news was the realisation of a dream he has fostered ever since those days he spent in the third tier.
“Back then, if someone would have told me that this would happen, maybe I wouldn’t have believed them – but it was always my target,” insisted the 24 year-old, speaking from France’s training base in Clairefontaine.
“I always try to reach my targets and, even though I was playing in League 1 in 2011, I told my dad, my agent and my friends that I was going to go to the World Cup in 2014.
“People said I should concentrate on becoming a Premier League player before that, but it’s like that saying – always aim for the moon because, if you miss it, you’ll reach the stars.
“For me, the moon was the World Cup and today I reached it.”
Schneiderlin was handed his first-ever senior call-up last month when he was named on a seven-player reserve list by national boss Deschamps.
However, after spending nine days training with Les Bleus, he and his fellow reservists were released from duty last week as France’s final 23-man squad was confirmed.
Schneiderlin was back in his native Strasbourg when, in the early hours of this morning, his phone rang.
“I didn’t answer the call at first because I didn’t recognise the number,” he says, “but then I got a text saying it was Didier Deschamps – so I called him back.
“He told me that two players were injured so I’d have to be ready, and that they’d let me know the following day if I had to come.
“After that call, I needed a bit of time before I could go to sleep because I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen the next day.
“He didn’t assure me of anything, only that I needed to be on my toes, so I couldn’t get carried away, but it certainly wasn’t the best sleep I’ve ever had!
“Then, at two this afternoon, they called me and told me I had to get there.
“It’s been an amazing day. I just can’t believe it – everything has happened so quickly.
“To be honest, I was more than happy just to be in the 30-man squad,” added the man from the Alsace.
“It was a good feeling to be around world-class players because, before that, I’d never been involved in a squad at all. It was amazing because of where I’ve come from, so it was good for me to experience that.
“I was with the squad for nine days. We had training sessions and we were involved with everyone in the squad as if we were going to the World Cup ourselves.
“Then, after that, the gaffer told us that we would have to leave but we’d still have to be ready.
“The day before we left he said that he understood that it was a difficult situation to be in, so he told us to enjoy our holidays – but said we shouldn’t just sit on the sofa doing nothing. I’ve been playing some tennis and trying not to go too far away.
“I wasn’t unhappy to be one of the reservists but, of course, we’re all competitors so we all wanted to be in the 23,” he continued. “That was my target, but I had to hide it.
“The most important thing was to show what I could do. I had to go about my business and to prove myself in training in case somebody got injured, and that’s what I did.
“I trained well and that’s why today, when someone got injured, the gaffer called me. For me to be named in the 23 today shows the work has paid off.
“Of course, I’m very sad for Franck Ribéry and Clément Grenier – they are good guys and good players, so France will miss them – but now it’s my time so I will try to take responsibility and do the best I can.”
Even with the speed of his rise taken into account, Schneiderlin admits he did start to wonder whether his first call-up would ever come after a string of impressive top-flight performances for Southampton seemingly went unnoticed by Deschamps.
“To be honest, at one point I did start to get about frustrated because I wasn’t getting any pre-calls let alone getting into the squad,” he said.
“I did start to ask myself some questions about what I was doing wrong, but I spoke with people around me who told me to stay focused on what I was doing on the pitch and that the call would come. That’s exactly what’s happened.
“In football – and in life in general – when you work hard, you get your rewards. This just shows that if you stay patient and you work hard, good things will come.
“I was playing in League 1 three years ago. It’s been an amazing journey, and to be in the squad was the result of everything that’s gone on in that time.
“This is thanks to everyone that I’ve met in England – all of the managers I’ve had and all of my teammates that have played alongside me.
“I’m so happy that so many people from those League 1 days are going to the World Cup. It’s just amazing – it shows how much work has been done behind the scenes, and how much progress we’ve made. It’s unreal.
“In League 1 and the Championship, we didn’t have the best players but we worked so hard. The transition we’ve made over the past two years and the progress every single player has made is just amazing.
“Congratulations go to everybody at Southampton.”