In an in-depth interview that first appeared in the Everton Matchday Programme for October's clash against Crystal Palace, Steven Schumacher opens up on coming through the Blues’ Academy, never getting a chance to make a senior appearance for his boyhood club, and his rise to the manager of Plymouth Argyle.
Steven Schumacher is a likeable character.
And he has every reason to be cheerful. An Evertonian born and bred, he quietly and extremely efficiently oversaw Plymouth Argyle’s recent League One title success, helping them achieve promotion to the second tier of the English game for the first time in 13 years.
However, his approachable persona masks a fierce determination and desire to succeed, and certain things do make him bristle.
One of them, and the passing of 20 years hasn’t dulled his angst, is the suggestion the Everton side that reached the FA Youth Cup final in 2002 where they lost to Aston Villa was simply Wayne Rooney and 10 others.
The fact the boy wonder became a global superstar, leaving numerous goalscoring records in his wake when he retired, and that the other 10 did not register a single Everton First-Team appearance between them would indicate that Schumacher has little right to be indignant.
“We all knew that Wayne was special in the group, but I don’t think anybody would have 100 per cent said that he would become England’s record goalscorer and one of the best footballers this country has ever produced,” claimed the current Argyle manager.
“We could see the raw talent, but it wasn’t just the Wayne Rooney show with 10 others. In that run, Michael Symes played his part, chipping in with some important goals, especially against West Ham in the first round. Steven Beck was a good player for us, Alan Moogan was a top player and we had a really good goalkeeper in Andre Pettinger.
“We had a very good team. We were solid and we were well-organised, as you would imagine with Colin Harvey coaching us. And, yes, we had this little kid up front who could score a goal out of the blue every now and then! Wayne was 18-months younger than us and it was clear he was better than everyone else.
“What went against the rest of the team was that we were all measured against Wayne Rooney and if you weren’t Wayne then you probably weren’t good enough, which was tough for us.”
Steven Schumacher was eight years old when he first walked through the Bellefield gates but despite being a rare talent, he never quite made it to the First Team. He was understandably upset but now that he is a manager himself, he recognises David Moyes’ methodology in not allowing him to fulfil his boyhood ambition.
“When I was told I wasn’t getting another contract I was disappointed and my dad was gutted. He couldn’t go back to Everton for years. But I had no hard feelings and I saw it as an opportunity to prove people wrong.
"I had been surprised at how fit and powerful everyone was, players who I’d watched as a fan and thought, ‘he can’t move’ or ‘he can’t do this or that’ and so it was a bit of an eye-opener when you’re up against them every single day. I told David Moyes that I knew I wasn’t right physically but that I knew what I had to do the following year. He told me I wasn’t going to play in his team and that it was best for me to move on.
“In my position we had seven or eight international players.”
And to illuminate his point, Schumacher reels them off without pausing for breath: “Scot Gemmill, Lee Carsley, Mark Pembridge, Thomas Gravesen, Li Tie, Tobias Linderoth, Alex Nyarko, Niclas Alexandersson.
“To get an opportunity in front of them was always going to be difficult and to trust an 18-year-old midfield player to go and play in the Premier League was hard for David Moyes to do. And he probably didn’t think I was quite good enough at the time, which is fine. When I was 19, I went with England to the European Championships and at the end of that season I was released, which wouldn’t happen these days. Maybe I was in the wrong place at the wrong time with regards to my Everton career but if I hadn’t left when I did, I wouldn’t have gone on to play nearly 500 games.
“It hurt me to leave Everton and I went away that summer, trained as hard as I had ever done and Michael Symes and I went on trial to Bradford City and we smashed it. We were physically ahead of everybody else and I became the box-to-box midfield player that I should have been at Everton. That one extra year might have made a difference.”
That last sentence hangs in the air but Schumacher’s character dictated he couldn’t feel sorry for himself and he proceeded to craft an excellent career, earning plaudits and personal awards in abundance with Bradford, Stevenage, Bury and Fleetwood Town.
Although we never saw him play in the Premier League, Evertonians of a certain vintage will recall Schumacher as a prodigious young player. By the time he was 15, his name was being bandied about as one to watch out for. He knew it and he accepted the subsequent pressure as being part and parcel of the profession he desperately wanted to pursue.
“I was aware of it, but it never fazed me. I was highly regarded as one of the best players in the country, captain of all the England age groups and I had offers to go to Liverpool, Manchester United and West Ham…which I politely refused.
“I was a Blue and my family are all Blues. I was Everton-mad and I felt that when Walter Smith was in charge I was going to get an opportunity. I thought the doors would open up for me if I just kept going doing what I was doing. But football can change quickly.”
It wasn’t quite the end of Schumacher’s relationship with Everton. In 2017 he returned as an Academy coach before being lured back onto the senior professional circuit as assistant manager to Ryan Lowe at Bury.
Along the way, he has learned many lessons about the game he loves with a passion and the good, the bad and the ugly side of football have prepared him thoroughly for the often onerous and always precarious occupation of management.
None more so than when he was at Bury. Talk about a rollercoaster ride!
Schumacher arrived at Gigg Lane in 2010, quickly assumed the captaincy and helped the Shakers to promotion.
“I was a player at Bury under the previous owner before things went wrong,” he said. “For a League Two club they paid half-decent wages and we went into League One and stayed there for a couple of seasons before a few of our top players got sold, including Ryan Lowe to Sheffield Wednesday. We missed his goals, but the manager Kevin Blackwell told me that new owners were coming in with ambitions to make Bury a Championship club.
“I wasn’t sure, but he then said that Fleetwood Town wanted me and were offering a good contract. I liked it at Bury but they needed the money and so I left.”
Schumacher saw out his playing career with Fleetwood and then Stevenage before a brief non-league spell with Southport. His life-changing move was in January 2018 when he agreed to assist Ryan Lowe back at Bury. On the field, the duo did well but away from the action, the football club was in something of a mess and Schumacher doesn’t hesitate when invited to select the lowest point of the whole sorry episode.
“Getting the water turned off which meant the lads couldn’t get a shower,” he grimaced. “That’s how serious it got. From January until the end of the season we relied on the PFA to pay the wages.
“Everyone was scrimping around, doing what they had to do for six months or so. I had to borrow money from my mum and dad. We had a good team and we were flying, playing with a style that people liked coming to watch. We got promoted but, unfortunately, that summer the club went bust, which was devastating.”
One would surmise that such a harrowing experience would dent, if not obliterate, any ambitions to be a manager in his own right but when Lowe accepted an offer to take charge at Preston North End, Schumacher rejected the option to accompany him and stayed at Plymouth to take over the reins.
“It’s a brilliant football club,” he enthused. “Not long ago it was a Championship club but then went through some financial difficulties, but we’ve stabilised things and we’re pushing for promotion again this season. 15,000 fans at home for a League One team is amazing and we take 2,500 away. Our away fans are as good, dare I say it, as Everton’s!
“It’s a bit hectic! Being manager of a League One club is full-on, there’s a lot going on and there’s a lot of stuff to deal with. Being a coach and an assistant manager in League One was tough enough but being the gaffer is a whole new level.
“When you get into your coaching career, you want to coach at the highest level. It was always in the back of my mind when I was playing that I wanted to be a manager and, luckily for me, it came really quickly.
“My first game in charge was MK Dons away from home, live on Sky, and my second was away to Sunderland in front of 35,000 and then we were away to Sheffield Wednesday! But they are the games that you want to experience and make the most of.”
A proud Merseysider who hasn’t lost his Scouse accent, Schumacher knows that the job of football manager comes very much with a ‘have boots will travel’ tag.
“That’s one of the most challenging things about being a professional footballer, especially in the lower leagues when you only get short-term contracts, one or two-year deals, you’ve got to be ready to up sticks and move. It’s no different when you’re coaching. In fact, probably even more so because manager’s contracts are shorter and you can get sacked at any time!
“When my daughter was 10 years old she’d already lived in 11 different properties, which is crazy but it’s just part and parcel of the job.
“It’s been the maddest four years of my life! I could write a book! The things you have to go through teach you lessons, but if you are true to yourself and keep working hard then eventually good things will happen.”
Schumacher freely admits that he occasionally delves into his Everton memory bank before making decisions, pondering over what Walter Smith, David Moyes or Andy Holden (his reserve team coach) would do or say.
“All the time,” he reveals. “Being Everton through and through means you have these values in you, where no matter what the situation is or no matter what the circumstance are, you go in and you work hard every single day. You give your all and if you don’t, then it’s not good enough. The way we plan sessions, the way we speak to players, the way we’re honest with people – that’s instilled in us from a young age.”
Schumacher is 39 years of age and has already seen and done more in the game than many managers of more advanced years. He’s adored by the Plymouth Argyle faithful and quite rightly so having guided them to the summit of the League One table.
He’s savvy enough not to take anything for granted, though, because he’s all too aware of how rapidly a wind of change can blow through.
“Last season we played Chelsea in the fourth round of the FA Cup at Stamford Bridge. It was my 10th game in charge and I’d gone from managing against Burnley Under-11s to managing against the champions of Europe in four years! That’s football.”
And that’s Steven Schumacher.
Remember the name…