saintsfc.co.uk looks at the journey of Morgan Schneiderlin, who made his full France debut at the 2014 FIFA World Cup last night...
The secret may finally be out.
Southampton supporters have long known about the talents of Morgan Schneiderlin, but on Wednesday night the whole world caught an overdue glimpse of the Saints midfielder in action at the highest level of international football.
France were already a solid bet for qualification into the knockout stages due to their superior goal difference after two matches, but that couldn’t mask the fact that this was still an important game for Les Bleus. A 0-0 draw against ten-man Ecuador was enough to secure top spot in Group E for Didier Deschamps’ men ahead of Switzerland, as the tables were turned by the European teams on the South American ones for a change at this World Cup.
For Schneiderlin though, the match was not all about proving his worth as a late call up into the 23 man squad in place of the injured Clement Grenier, but one more of a journey that has ultimately led to the success he craved when moving to Southampton in 2008.
Tomorrow, it will be six years to the day that an ever fresher faced 18 year-old Schneiderlin arrived at St Mary’s with an opportunity to play regularly in the second tier of English football. The goal that season was to push an exciting young team towards promotion to the Premier League, but sadly, for that fledgling side it proved too much of a challenge, and when relegation to League 1 followed, Schneiderlin may have been forgiven for seeking pastures new.
Like so many others from the club though he stuck at it with Saints, and ultimately was rewarded with an unprecedented amount of success. He has been playing regularly alongside the likes of Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert who also joined him at this year’s World Cup, and it’s remarkable to think that the three of them were plying their trade in the third tier of English football during the previous finals of 2010.
It is perhaps for that reason why Saints fans will share the same admiration for Schneiderlin as they do for their home-grown English stars, because they will know that the club has more than played its part in developing yet another international player here.
Wednesday evening’s match marked the start of the next phase for the Frenchman who won Saints’ player of the year and fans’ vote in the club’s first season back in the Premier League.
He took to the challenge of playing in England’s top-flight in the same way that he approached his first full start for the French senior side.
Playing at the famous Maracanã stadium in Rio De Janeiro, Schneiderlin did not put a foot wrong as he was deployed in a deeper lying central midfield role, where he impressed by playing in front of the watertight back four. The stats backed that up by showing that in the first half alone, he completed 94% of 32 passes that he attempted.
After Ecuador had Manchester United winger Antonio Valencia sent off in the second half, France were keen to make the extra man in midfield count, with Schneiderlin almost capping a memorable debut with a strike from distance in the 72nd minute which flew over the crossbar.
Those who waited so long to see him score a goal for Southampton in an away game at Bristol Rovers may appreciate that it could take a bit of time before that first strike comes for the national side, but for now, Schneiderlin is rightly, enjoying the moment.
“It's a dream come true,” he told reporters after the game.
“Playing at the Maracanã — such a mythical stadium — is incredible. I tried to ignore the context and concentrate on the match.
“I'd like to thank the coach (Didier Deschamps), because it's never easy to give someone with no caps their first start at the Maracanã,” he added.
“I hope I didn't disappoint him. I gave my all.”
Deschamps – who captained France to World Cup glory in 1998 – seemed happy enough as he praised Schneiderlin for an impressive full debut.
He said: “He plays for a club that is not one of the most high-profile and he may not be that well-known, but he can play in front of the back four and he did very well.”
Morgan may have benefitted from the injuries to Grenier and Franck Ribery to make Deschamps’ inclusion, but he has clearly given the French boss food for thought.
As Saints fans will testify though, Schneiderlin won’t rest on his laurels, especially with Monday’s Last 16 match with Nigeria now in his team’s sights.
“I'm brimming with happiness, but from tomorrow onwards, I'll have to shake away all these little stars around my head, because there are still targets ahead,” said Schneiderlin, who is one of only two remaining Saints players – alongside Uruguay’s Gastón Ramírez – at this World Cup.
The secret is out on Morgan Schneiderlin, but everyone connected to Southampton Football Club couldn’t be more proud about it.