Tag Archives: Louis van Gaal

Goss won’t rush after year-long injury nightmare

Manchester United’s Sean Goss remains content to bide his time and wait for the opportunity to impress Jose Mourinho.

The central midfielder, 20, has been at United since signing from Exeter City as a 16 year-old and despite being named in previous match day squads for the first team, is still yet to make his competitive debut.

But having recovered from a serious back injury that sidelined him for almost 12 months, Goss is focused first and foremost on regaining his fitness, before pushing for a place in Mourinho’s thinking.

“I’ve only just got back fit, I’ve been out for a year and I’m still on the road to recovery,” Goss told Elephant Sport.

“I had two fractures in my back and I’ve been out since last December. I played my first match [a few weeks ago], so I’m just concentrating on getting a few games under my belt and see where it takes me from there.”

Frustration

A footballer’s lifestyle might not often be described as ‘back-breaking’, however an accumulation of stresses and strains will soon mount up for a top-level athlete.

As is often the case, the road to recovery can be a long and arduous one.

“Van Gaal really helped my game and pushed me forward”

Describing his frustration at the injury Goss explained: “[The fractures] happened over time.

“I woke up and could hardly move, so I had tests, and then three months where I wasn’t allowed to do anything, I just had to recover. No gym, no swimming, no training or anything, which is hard, as you don’t know what to do with yourself.

“You’re watching games and you just want to be playing, so that was another big test. I had the time off and then when I got back I had to slowly build up with injections and that kind of thing.

“Hopefully now that’s the end of it.”

Youthful

Prior to his ill-timed injury, the Devon-born youngster had made big strides towards staking a claim for a spot within United’s first team.

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Goss is hoping to make his breakthrough in 2017

Having signed whilst Sir Alex Ferguson was in his final years at the helm, Goss had seen David Moyes come and swiftly leave before Louis Van Gaal arrived.

Fresh from leading the Netherlands to a World Cup semi-final, Van Gaal set about building a competitive, yet youthful Manchester United team.

The Dutchman’s move from orange to red proved fruitful for Goss who feels that the former Barcelona manager helped to raise the levels of his game nearer to that of a Manchester United first team player.

“Obviously I was younger when Sir Alex Ferguson was here. You’d see him around, as you would all the managers.

“But the main one when I started to push on was Van Gaal, he really helped my game and pushed me forward.

“He was always communicating with me in some way, whether I was playing for the under 23’s or if I was in and around the [first team] squad. If I was training with them they were always letting me know how I was getting on, what I could do better.”

“I was just at that age as well where, with the other ones before I was maybe a bit young in my body, but I think that was the time [under Van Gaal] where I was turning into a man.”

Debut

In fact, Van Gaal rated Goss so highly that he took the left-footed midfielder on the club’s pre-season tour of the USA in 2015.

Despite drawing comparisons to Michael Carrick in terms of playing style, it might have been easy to presume that Goss was there to make up the numbers; taken along to gain experience.

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Goss made his debut against PSG during Manchester United’s tour of the USA in 2015

However there was to be a fairy-tale ending, as Van Gaal introduced Goss as a second-half substitute during the friendly with Paris Saint-Germain, handing him his first team debut.

To add a further poetic element to the moment, it was Carrick who made way for the debutant.

Recalling the mixture of nerves and excitement, Goss explains; “You dream of making your debut but it’s hard to explain how it was.

“You’re there training and you hope you get your chance but when it finally happens you’re just concentrating on the game. It was a big crowd in a big stadium as well so it was a dream come true.

“He [Van Gaal] said I would get my chance. I just remember being sat there on the bench and getting told to warm up.

“It’s almost as if your stomach drops and your heart skips a beat for a second, but it was quality.”

Breakthrough

 Upon returning from the USA, Goss continued to be involved in Van Gaal’s first team environment, making the match day squad for the trip to Watford in the league and travelling with the squad for the Champions League tie away at Wolfsburg.

“When you’re younger you think ‘I’ll play for Man Utd one day’”

United scored in the last minute to defeat the Hornets 2-1 at Vicarage Road and whilst being an unused sub, the experience was of vital importance to Goss.

Sitting alongside him on the bench that day was Marcus Rashford, who would later go on to make his breakthrough for club and country, whilst Jesse Lingard and Paddy McNair made sizeable contributions on the pitch.

All three had been peers of Goss before being given their breaks by Van Gaal and at the time, the left footed Devon man hoped he might follow suit.

Whilst many Utd fans believed the time was right for Van Gaal to leave at the end of last season, for Goss there was a feeling of what might have been.

‘Unbelievable feeling’

“I felt like you never know what could happen. There were a few injuries in the squad at the time, but it’s hard to say, as I never got to as I was injured.

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The trip to Wolfsburg provided valuable experience for Goss

“But you saw that other players came through and made appearances, so you’d be hoping that I would have been one of them.

“I was on the bench at Watford and then travelled to Wolfsburg with the squad. Again, when you get told you’re involved it’s an unbelievable feeling. It’s another amazing experience I can look back on and hopefully I can get more of them.”

Goss has been working towards his first team breakthrough ever since making the move from Exeter City in 2012.

A boyhood United fan, he had previously been the mascot for the Grecians’ memorable FA Cup third round draw at Old Trafford, whilst dreaming of stepping out at the ‘theatre of dreams’ as a player.

“When you’re younger you think ‘I’ll play for Man Utd one day,’” he said.

“But it’s only when you’re older you look back and realise it’s near enough impossible [to sign for Manchester United]. To get the chance is quality and looking back I never expected it.

“There were tough times… but I think they’re the most important times where you’ve got to keep your head and keep working hard”

“I started at Exeter when I was about seven or eight and played a year up for most of my time, until under 16s. I had a few chances with the youth team and then I was lucky enough to get a trial with United.

“I went up [to Manchester] and played a couple of games. I went to Amsterdam and played against some big teams like Ajax, Barcelona and AC Milan.

“After that I was lucky enough to get signed and joined when I was 16.

“It was tough, the first year especially. You’re only young, 16, moving away from home and it’s not like it’s just around the corner either. There were tough times where I felt a bit homesick but I think they’re the most important times where you’ve got to keep your head and keep working hard.

“The coaches are a big help; you get the welfare officer and coaches. When you’re a first-year scholar you’re not really near the first team, usually just the youth team and reserves, but the coaches were a big help if you ever needed some time off.”

Class of ’92

Amongst the coaches who helped Goss to settle were members of the famed ‘Class of ’92’.

Along with the likes of Warren Joyce, who recently left the club to become manager of Wigan Athletic, and senior members of the first team playing squad, the young players at Carrington could depend on a strong support network.

“They were all really good with us, every single one of them.” Said Goss.

“We had Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes for the Champions League [UEFA Youth League], which was always helpful, especially with the experience they’ve had at the club. I think you always need someone like that who’s had history with the club.

“You can go up and talk to any of them, there’s no big egos. Everyone’s human at the end of the day, if you wanted to chat to anyone they’re more than happy to help you out.”

Mourinho has historically favoured experience over youth throughout his career and not many people would be able to argue against the Portuguese’s policy given his medal haul.

But at a club such as Manchester United, whose homegrown players have been a major part of the club’s sustained success, there is an expectancy amongst the supporters that they see their ‘own’ players on the pitch.

Whether or not Mourinho sticks around long enough to give youth a chance remains to be seen. For players like Goss the key will be hard work and patience.

Ajax icon Swart still going strong

When Sjaak Swart enters the canteen at Ajax Amsterdam’s training complex, a stone’s throw away from the stupendous Amsterdam Arena, he is everything you would imagine.

Tall, straight-backed, charming, dignified, polite and with a sense of humour. You can see that his love for the game is undiminished despite being over 40 years into retirement. He eats, drinks and breathes football.

“Too good for Ajax – this is tough to admit for someone who led the club to eight Dutch titles, three European Cups and numerous other trophies”

The former striker, a genuine legend of Dutch football who made nearly 600 appearances for Ajax, scoring over 200 goals, looks full of life for a man who turns 78 this summer.

It quickly becomes clear that he still possesses the rarest of gifts: the ability to silence a busy room with his mere presence. When he walks in, all conversations are interrupted. He brings the place to a standstill. Just like Lionel Messi would do in any public place in the world.

Swart believes that Barcelona’s number 10 is the currently world’s greatest player. “If you score 50 goals like he does every year, that is not normal,” he tells me. “He is inimitable. No doubts, I find Messi better than Cristiano Ronaldo or Maradona.

“But it’s difficult to compare players from once upon a time with players from now. There were also other truly magnificent players like Cruijff, Van Basten, Garrincha, Pele.”

‘Too good for Ajax’

Swart keeps himself busy. He still plays football for fun with his pals and visits the Ajax training complex on a daily basis to offer advice to the club’s promising young footballers, among them club captain Davy Klaassen.

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“This is my player,” said Swart. “Klassen is a very good player. He can do everything on the pitch. He scores goals, he can play one-touch. He always works hard, too hard I find. He does too much in my opinion. Wait a few years and he will leave the club because he’ll be too good for Ajax.”

‘Too good for Ajax’ – this is tough to admit for someone who led the club to eight Dutch titles, three European Cups and numerous other trophies.

However, these days it unfortunately fits the bill as Ajax have fallen from grace and endured a torrid time in the past two decades.

In Swart’s era, ‘The Lancers’ were the Barcelona of their day: mighty, barely beatable, heads and shoulders above the rest and possessing an unrivalled power to tie down its most talented players.

Foundations

Swart and Johan Crujff put the Amsterdam club on the map by winning the European Cup in 1971, 1972 and 1973. Together they forged Europe’s most potent attacking tandem, like Lionel Messi and Neymar today.

“When you reach the final as Ajax Amsterdam and a little country like Holland, that was fantastic”

Recently he visited his former team-mate, who is suffering from cancer, in hospital. “He is doing much better… Hopefully it stays like this. He must stay strong. Crujff is the best player Ajax have ever had, even better than Dennis Bergkamp and Marco Van Basten.”

Swart firmly believes that the defeat in the 1969 European Cup final laid the foundations for the glory that followed.

“We lost to Milan but then went on to win three Cups,” he said. “We lost 4-1 againt the Rossoneri who had a great team with Schnellinger, Trapattoni, Prati and Rivera. The latter was the boss on the field.

“After going 1-0 up I knew we’d lose. The reason is that we fell into their catenaccio (the defensive-minded football which usually employs a sweeper).

“But when you reach the final as Ajax Amsterdam and a little country like Holland, that was fantastic.”

Poster team

Swart firmly believes that naming an unchanged squad in the years that followed that ill-fated final sowed the seeds for their trophy-laden era. “After that game, we played with the same team, same players and always became better and better. We got to know each other perfectly.

“We started to buy into the manager’s philosophy and went on to win three finals. The game against AC Milan prepared us for the final against Inter in 1972 as we finally knew how to deal with the Italian catenaccio.

“Now it’s the time for the money, and Dutch football doesn’t have any.”

“We beat Inter 2-0 but I saw the game many time afterwards and we could have won it 5-0 or 6-0 also,” Swart proudly recalls.

However, Dutch football and its poster team Ajax have slipped down the European pecking order over the years.

Only PSV Eindhoven have made it past the quarter-finals in the past decade, while the Amsterdam outfit haven’t made it out of the group stages for the past 12 years.

Monetary issues

“Dutch football peaked in the 60s and 70s,” Swart admits. “Now we are struggling. I think it is not just a national decline but it also has got to do with an international rise. All the teams have tactics now.

“They play with 10 men behind, score one goal and then they only defend the result. That is not good for football. In my time, we played Total Football, we always played in the opponents’ half, scored goals and tried to dominate them by attacking. Our team had Crujff, Neeskens, Piet Keizer and Vasovic…those were fantastic players.”

“There has been a drought of superstars coming through the club in recent years, it’s true. We have sold them all”

The veteran agrees monetary issues have undeniably played a major role in the Dutch decline as well.

“Nowadays, as soon as a player reaches his peak, he leaves Ajax. Now it’s the time for the money, and Dutch football doesn’t have any. Other big European clubs have a lot of money to invest in wages or buy top players. We don’t. And of course other leagues are stronger.”

Adding further misery is that Ajax’s renowned De Toekomst academy, a perennial production line of top-notch talent, hasn’t been keeping up with the losses.

Drought

Where once it was churning out a lot of good players and a healthy dose of great ones, now it produces decent players with a few good ones.

The club has failed to pull a rabbit out of the hat in recent years, and exceptions such as Gregory Van der Wiel, Jan Vertonghen, Christian Eriksen have been sold shortly after making the grade.

“There has been a drought of superstars coming through the club in recent years, it’s true,” Swart confirmed. “We have sold them all, but that is not up for debate now.

“Once we used to have Bergkamp, Van Basten…or bought Ibrahimovic and Suarez when they were very young and developed them into great players.

“Have you seen how good they have become? They are fantastic. For instance, I never expected Suarez to become as good as he is now. When we signed him from Groningen in 2007, he was already a hard worker, a strong player..but that he would become as good as now? No..I didn’t expect it.”

Defensive leader

With the national team failing to qualify for Euro 2016 in France this summer, many in the Netherlands feel an injection of youth is needed as key players such as Robin Van Persie, Wesley Sneijder, Rafael Van der Vaart and Arjen Robben are all the wrong side of 30.

“The defence is not good enough at the moment. Neeskens, De Boer…these were leaders and now we miss leaders”

But Swart rubbishes these suggestions, claiming rather that the squad are short of a defensive leader.

“The old guard past their best? Not at all. Robben is still one of the best in the world, Van Persie as well, he is a very good striker and Holland’s most prolific goalscorer ever…then we have Van der Vaart. Every team in the world would love to have these four players. But you need to fit them into a good squad.

“I think the defence is not good enough at the moment. Like when we had Neeskens and Frank de Boer…these were leaders and now we miss leaders.

“The last one we had was Johnny Heitinga, but I think he has had it. He is not as fit as he was 10 years ago and I think we have seen the best of him. But he was fantastic at the 2010 World Cup. Defending, passing and a threat at set pieces with his head.”

Pedigree

Since Swart retired, Ajax may only have won the Champions League once, in 1995, but despite that he still believes that the club has the personnel and pedigree to be crowned European champions again – provided that they bring in a quality attacker.

“Yes, we can win the Champions League again, but we need a centre forward. We always had a player who scored 25 or 30, like Suarez, Kieft, Arveladze, Bosman… those were fantastic players.

“But now our centre forward [Arek] Milik scores maximum 10 goals. He is 21 and must learn… Ajax play differently to Poland where he plays with Lewandowski up-front.

“We play as a team at Ajax while in his national team it depends on him and Lewandowski individually, predominantly. I must admit that our two wingers don’t deliver enough which doesn’t help him. But if we get a great centre forward I don’t see why we can’t win it.”

Go, Van Gaal

Finally, our conversation turns to Swart’s compatriot, and the architect of Ajax’s 1995 European title triumph, Louis van Gaal.

With Manchester United currently struggling to keep pace with Manchester City, Arsenal and Leicester City in the Premier League, he believes Van Gaal is not the manager to restore the Red Devils to pre-eminence.

“Van Gaal? He is not the right man for them,” he said. “He might be a very good trainer on the field. He is a hard worker, a great tactician, a disciplinarian, but buying players doesn’t do for him.

“He is good at producing his own players, turning youngsters into great players such as he did with Müller, Iniesta, Kluivert, Davids. But buying stars doesn’t suit him.”

Forthright, honest and wise – no wonder Swart is still bringing those canteen conversations to a halt at his beloved Ajax.