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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
“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.