Morgan Schneiderlin is a graduate of the Ronald Koeman school of blunt talking. “You can buy as many players as you want,” he says of the unprecedented investment in Everton’s first team and the possibility of six new faces featuring against Stoke City on Saturday. “But if you don’t have a good performance, it’s for nothing.” Time, then, for the manager’s new-look team to start gelling.
The Premier League opens amid greater optimism than usual this year at Goodison Park, where season tickets sold out three months ago, though it has been tempered in the past month. Since Wayne Rooney became Everton’s sixth summer signing on 9 July, only the free agent Cuco Martina has arrived and Koeman’s frustration that three transfers remain outstanding – Gylfi Sigurdsson, a new striker and left-sided defensive cover – was evident following Sunday’s friendly against Sevilla. “I heard every time that ‘Everton is spending £100m, £100m, £100m’, but I saw the list and I think we’re 16th in the league for spending and we got £95m for Lukaku,” he said. “We’ve only spent £7m. It’s a different picture than the media is talking.”
Koeman’s argument ignores the growing wage bill but his team’s performances have strengthened his case that expectations do not tally with the current make-up of his squad, even in pre-season. Everton were pedestrian in both legs of their Europa League third qualifying round win over Ruzomberok of Slovakia and the manager’s search for balance, creativity and pace continued during the 2-2 draw with Sevilla. Schneiderlin’s optimism remains intact, however, and he objects to what he believes is a rush to judgment.
“You can’t judge us now,” says the French midfielder. “You will have to judge us by September or October. First of all the transfer window is not finished and I believe we are going to add more players before then. Also, I don’t think one player in the Premier League is going to be 100% and reaching his peak on the first game of the season. I don’t think one team is going to be 100% either. I don’t think it’s possible to judge us yet. You can do in a couple of weeks but not now.
“Since Sunday I have heard a lot of remarks about pace. You have to judge that but I think we have good players. Like I said, we will see on 31 August what players are going to come in but, for the moment, it looks good. Of course we need one or two more pieces to get the puzzle right but it will come.”
The 27-year-old was part of the first wave of big spending by Everton this year when he arrived from Manchester United in a deal worth up to £24m in January. What he was sold then by Koeman, the chairman Bill Kenwright and the major shareholder Farhad Moshiri has been backed up by this summer’s recruitment.
“I spoke with a few clubs in January and then, when I spoke to Everton, they told me straight away that they have ambition, that they wanted to do something great in the summer to improve the team and to break into the Champions League in the next few years,” says Schneiderlin. “So I was very convinced by the way they were speaking and the way they see things. That’s one of the main reasons I came here.
“It’s very nice for the football club. I think for a long time Everton didn’t get as many players or have as much transfer activity as this season, so it’s very exciting for the club. It’s very nice to read about in the paper and everything but now it’s about talking on the pitch. Everyone can be excited but now it’s up to us, the players, to do the job.”
Even without a successful resolution to the Sigurdsson saga and quest for a new striker, Koeman faces a challenge to integrate half-a-dozen signings into a team seeking to improve on last season’s seventh-placed finish. Schneiderlin believes recruiting players with European and international experience will hasten the process.
But with games against Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United following Stoke in the Premier League, and a Europa League play-off against Hajduk Split home then away on Thursday and Thursday week, the demands are constant.
“It will take time,” cautions the former Southampton and United midfielder. “We need to know each other better, to know players’ movements, their strengths, their weaknesses and where they like the ball to be played. It takes a bit of time to get there and you need the games but we also need to do it quick because the season starts now. You could see in the friendlies and the Europa League qualifier that we are not 100% yet in the way we are playing.
“It is important we get to know each other off the pitch as well. We had two training camps that helped and a trip to Tanzania where we were away for a week and got to know each other better, but we are talking and working together every day on the training pitch. We can always have a coffee together too to get to know each other but it’s like every co-worker – sometimes you become good friends and socialise together and sometimes not.”
Koeman has not set his Everton players a target for the season other than to compete for European qualification and share the responsibility of replacing Lukaku’s goal threat following his move to Old Trafford. “It was not so great for us that Romelu might move but we wish him good luck,” says Schneiderlin. “Hopefully, that will free more players to score goals because last year we relied on him a lot for scoring goals.”
The Everton midfielder adds: “We want to do better than last season so that means breaking into the top six. That’s our ambition but there are hopefully going to be extra games with the Europa League so we will have to see how we cope. I think we have a squad that’s big enough to cope but we will have to see.
“We want to progress and get to know each other better. There has been a lot of movement this summer with players coming in. Yes we want to break into the top six but a lot of teams have strengthened this summer so it is going to be a very interesting season. I will be able to tell you more about the strength of the team after a couple of weeks and a few more games but the aim is to be better than last season.”
Schneiderlin was talking at an Everton in the Community football session. Everton in the Community uses the power of sport to inspire people across Merseyside and improve their life chances