Ever been in a lift with Louis van Gaal?
It’s safe to assume it can be an intimidating experience on the best of occasions. Yet for Sean Goss, it was an occasion which the man himself says caused his “stomach to drop”.
The venue was the Manchester United team hotel in Chicago in July 2015, just hours before the Old Trafford club’s glamour match with Paris St Germain at Soldier Field.
A young Goss, brought along on United’s American tour, found himself in the elevator on the way down for his pre-match meal, staring at the imposing figure of his iconic Dutch manager.
“I was in the lift going down to pre-match and Van Gaal was in there,” the midfielder recalled.
“He just looked at me and said ‘You will play minutes tonight. Be ready’. My stomach just dropped and I couldn’t eat anything.”
And indeed he did play.
In a 2-0 defeat – with goals from Blaise Matuidi and Zlatan Ibrahimovic doing the damage in the first half – Goss would come on to replace Michael Carrick for the final 10 minutes in front of a bumper crowd, seeing the match out alongside the likes of Wayne Rooney, Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind.
For the boyhood United fan, it was a debut and moment for him, and a special member of his family, to savour.
“She actually went to every tour game,” Goss told ManUtd.com back in 2015. “She told me afterwards that she booked the time off last year just in case I was in the squad. I had no idea she’d done that.
“My dad couldn’t get the time off work unfortunately so my mum travelled all round on her own and came to all the games. I kept in touch with her throughout and it was good to know she was there on my debut. She said she was in tears when I came on.”
It was just one of a series of “pinch me” moments for the now Motherwell midfielder, who joined as a teenager from Exeter.
“It always feels like a crazy moment in my life when I look back on it,” he said. “At the time I was just trying to concentrate on my football but I was a Man United fan when I was growing up.
“It all changed when Van Gaal came in. He took quite a liking to me, so I was training with the first team. In that first season, I was lucky enough to go away with them on the America tour.
“It was so surreal watching these guys when you are growing up, then before you know it you are training with them and playing with them. It’s a crazy experience.
“The first day I was there and seeing Rooney, Carrick. I remember thinking that they were just normal people, but obviously they were right at the top of their game. Obviously, I was nowhere near that when I was at Exeter. It’s also little moments like seeing Sir Alex [Ferguson] as well.
“I was lucky enough that my first year was his last, so I got to see he used to be around the place and witness the kind of impact he had. Even the likes of Sir Bobby [Charlton] coming into the changing room after the games. Even things like them knowing everyone’s name. It can sound so simple but it meant so much.
“Thankfully we won the league that year so I didn’t get to witness any hair-dryer treatment from Sir Alex.”
Goss’ journey to Chicago and the lift of destiny began in Germany. Born there with both his parents in the army, he spent the first eight years of his life there before coming back to the United Kingdom.
Soon he was snapped up for the youth ranks of Exeter City, before eventually moving on eight years later to Manchester United in 2012.
Goss has already admitted it was a massive culture shock, but it would be the start of a five-year learning curve as his footballing education was ramped up.
After penning a two-year deal with Motherwell at the start of the season, there’s a permanent reminder of those halcyon days in Manchester sitting in the berth next to him in the Fir Park home dressing room.
“He can’t get enough of Burnley,” joked Goss of Liam Grimshaw, the Motherwell team-mate who was a year above him at Carrington. “That and his horse racing.
“He was a year above me [at Manchester United]. When I was 15 I remember being at a tournament in Amsterdam, he was at as well. So when I signed as an under-18 he was there. We know each other really well and were always really friendly back then.
“It’s quite nice that we’re now sat next to each other in the changing room at Motherwell all these years on. It helps massively settling in when you know someone.”
The welcoming nature is a point Goss goes on to stress as the key factor for bedding in so well at Fir Park.
The former Queens Park Rangers man has been in Lanarkshire since August but had to wait until last week until finally moving into his apartment.
It doesn’t take long for the novelty of living out a hotel room to wear off at the best of times, and that’s before introducing bedding into a new place of work, being away from home or Covid-19 into the mix.
Yet Goss insists his new team-mates have rallied around him in the recent weeks and months, although the thought of sampling some of their home cooking hasn’t been something that he’s called upon.
“I’m not bad at cooking for myself, to be fair. Grimmy would probably try and make me some pie and mash or a hotpot stew.
“The first few weeks were quite hard. I only got into my place last week, so I’ve been here this whole time without an apartment. But the lads have been brilliant with me.
“There’s a coffee club, I love my golf but I’ve not got my winter gear. The boys are always planning something, even in small groups or playing the PlayStation. I think it would have been a lot harder if you didn’t have that kind of group of players. It could have been really quite tough.”
Of course, this is not Goss’ first experience in Scottish football.
Back in 2018, he joined Rangers on loan from QPR, going on to make 13 appearances for the Ibrox side. The following year he was back in Scotland, this time in the blue of today’s opponents St Johnstone.
However, Goss, who later joined Shrewsbury Town, does not reflect on his time in Scotland before as a truly enjoyable experience. Particularly at McDiarmid Park, where the 26-year-old says his love for the game failed to ignite.
Now an integral part of Graham Alexander’s Motherwell machine, the man born in Wegberg is loving life north of the border.
“Having a permanent base helps massively,” he explained. “I went to Rangers and it was quite early on in my career of playing week in, week out. That was a big learning curve for me.
“At St Johnstone, I can’t really put my finger on it. I wasn’t really enjoying my football, I fell out of love with it really. People always say when they try and sell you a club that ‘Aw it’s a real family club’. Motherwell has been the first one I’ve felt that with since I left United.
“It’s a really tight group here from the players to the staff to the fans, it makes a massive difference. I’m really enjoying every day again.
“There was a spell where I just wasn’t getting the enjoyment out of football in my career. But that’s now back.”
Goss has already established himself as a favourite among the Well support. One of the reasons for that may come from his fine dead-ball delivery which has caused defences throughout the Scottish Premiership all sorts of problems this season.
Indeed, Goss has played a part in 25% of Motherwell’s league goals this season. He is joint fourth in the top-flight assist table with four after 11 games, the same amount as former Fir Park hero David Turnbull at Celtic.
It is a talent that continues to bring a buzz around Fir Park whenever the former United kid stands over a ball 35 yards from goal.
“It’s always been one of my strong points,” said Goss. “The season before last I had a few more but about seven or eight headers that hit the post, I was gutted.
“I’m just buzzing that my delivery can be a real threat. You want the fans to think you score and it gives me a buzz as well when we get an opportunity.”
Today’s match against St Johnstone heralds the start of a hat-trick of matches that could prove to be defining for Alexander’s side.
Motherwell sit fifth, level on points with fourth-placed Dundee United, and now have three matches prior to the January break against teams all lower than them in the Premiership. Two of those are at home, starting against St Johnstone this afternoon.
Livingston, who were beaten in West Lothian, then come to Fir Park on Boxing Day, while a trip to Ross County, who were defeated at Fir Park back in September.
It is understandable the Steelmen will not be taking anything for granted, but full points could take Motherwell, who are just five points off Hearts in third, deep into the territory of serious contenders for a European spot.
The frustration from last weekend’s defeat at Celtic Park may well no longer be lingering. A valiant performance, especially in the first half, went unrewarded as the visitors were undone just before the break with a training ground free-kick.
While not getting carried away, Goss is confident about Motherwell’s credentials and their ability to get back to winning ways swiftly.
“We’ve shown what we can do in games. It’s about getting that consistency,” said the midfielder.
“We’ve got a really good squad. We train well and I think we play well, and it shows how strong the squad is that if someone drops out you don’t really notice a difference.
“We have shown against Aberdeen, Dundee United and Hibs what we can do. We need to show that in every game. Hopefully, that will be reflected in the league table at the end of the season.”
Sean’s interview is taken from the latest edition of the Motherwell FC match programme. Get yours from sellers around the ground before Saturday’s match with St Johnstone, or buy online here.