Serge Gnabry was at crossroads in his career.
Federico Macheda and Ravel Morrison were two youngsters at Manchester United who faded into obscurity after arriving with impressive reputations.
Serge Gnabry’s career was at a crossroads following a nightmare loan spell at West Brom
Now he is one of Europe’s fiercest forwards after hitting four for Bayern away to Tottenham
His boss during his time at the Hawthorns was Tony Pulis, a manager who will not indulge any player who fails to fit into his rigid, well-drilled system and as he watched Gnabry hit four past Tottenham on Tuesday night, the Welshman was totally dumbfounded.
‘We had him at West Brom, we took him on loan and we could never get him fit,’ Pulis said on Sky Sports after Bayern Munich ran out 7-2 winners at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
‘I think he even got taken off in an Under-21 game. He went back to Arsenal, they sold him on.
‘You could knock me over with a feather having worked with him at West Brom and seen him there to what he’s done is absolutely amazing. When people show what they can really do and really knuckle down and become so good as he’s done, it’s absolutely fantastic. The kid’s done fantastic.’
West Brom feels a world away from his starring role right now in this Bayern team but it is an experience that has stayed with him, shaping him to the player that is taking Europe by storm right now.
He lived alone in Birmingham, visited on occasion by his parents, and things were made tougher given his relationship with Pulis soured quickly. When asked by Sportsmail in an exclusive interview recently what was behind his surprising failure in the Midlands, Gnabry was unequivocal in his version.
West Brom was the place where Gnabry was supposed to get back to fitness after an injury
But Tony Pulis has since revealed that he could barely manage to get the player fit to play
‘Tony Pulis,’ he said. ‘Ask Tony Pulis. Different styles, different opinions. I can’t really say too much, but I tried my best at West Brom and it didn’t work out.
‘I was told I would be getting a lot of game time, otherwise I could have signed for another team.
‘They really seemed like they were going to play me. Mentally for me, in that time at West Brom, I said to myself: ‘Even though I have zero chance of playing, all I can do is work hard.’ That mentality has stayed with me today and helped me to become a Bayern player.’
Emerging on the radar as a teenager at Stuttgart, Gnabry was scouted and picked up by Arsenal for £100,000 at the age of 16.
SERGE GNABRY CV
2015–16: West Brom (loan)
2016–17: Werder Bremen
2017-PRESENT: Bayern Munich
2017–18: 1899 Hoffenheim (loan)
He was a talented track athlete and once told Arsenal’s website that he ‘had never lost a race’ before he put his energy solely into football.
His progression rocketed and he made his first team debut at the age of 17, in the League Cup against Coventry City in September 2012. A month later he became the second youngest Arsenal player to turn out in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger had no issue building up the club’s next big star. The plan was for him to go on and establish himself as a regular starter.
‘Serge Gnabry is a great hope for the future, I rate him highly,’ Wenger said back in 2012. ‘He is in the category of [Alex] Oxlade-Chamberlain and [Theo] Walcott — guys who have great power, great pace and good dribbling skills.’
But life in the Premier League for talented young players is not always a straightforward fairytale. For every Marcus Rashford, rising through the academy straight into the first team, there is a case like Gnabry.
Gnabry was spotted by Arsenal at the age of 16 and joined the club as the next big thing in 2012
The Arsenal plan failed to play out and he asked to leave as he joined Werder Bremen (right)
Nine games in 2013-14 was a taste of what was to come, only for a serious knee injury – ironically picked up against Bayern – to cut short his time in north London. With the benefit of hindsight, that was the moment Gnabry’s Arsenal career slipped away. The 2014-15 season was written off and he never managed to reassert himself in red and white.
West Brom was seen as the place where he could get back up to speed but it went worse than he, the club or Tony Pulis could have imagined. He was sent back before the deal was due up and his next move had to be the right one.
Arsenal offered him a new deal but Germany was calling and a disillusioned Gnabry returned home in the knowledge that he was unwilling to allow his talents to go to waste.
The summer departures of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben have helped allow him to establish himself as a starter in Niko Kovac’s Bayern side these days. But in truth, the Bundesliga have been on alert for years, since he resurrected his talents in the green and white at Werder Bremen.
Bayern were actually interested then, even after the West Brom debacle but it was destination Bremen for the winger. In the end it was merely a short lay-over before ending up in Bavaria 12 months later after hitting 11 goals in 27 Bundesliga games for Werder Bremen.
A loan to Hoffenheim was requested as Gnabry wanted to be ready when he went to Bayern
Reflecting back on his time there, Gnabry admits working under Julian Nagelsmann helped
Aside from a loan at Hoffenheim – a move he requested – it was been a rare moment of consistency for a player who has been shunted around. He worked under the increasingly popular Julian Nagelsmann at Hoffenheim but struggled to find his best position.
He was used in five different roles before eventually settling as a winger. For Nagelsmann, Gnabry was a talent, but not a ‘killer’ in front of goal.
‘He’s not a merciless killer in front of goal,’ he said at the time. ‘He’s a mixture of taker and maker who can start moves.’
Nobody inside the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium could accuse Gnabry of lacking a killer instinct on Tuesday night.
It was a loan spell that was profitable, unlike at West Brom, and Gnabry knows the value of his season under Nagelsmann.
‘My path was longer and I had to work my hardest and give my best at all times,’ he told the Bundesliga website.
‘I personally believe you get back what you put in, not just in football, but in everything.’
In his first full season at Bayern, he won the Bundesliga and was named Player of the Season
Gnabry has also now become one of the main stars for 2014 World Cup winners Germany
Gnabry has never been interested in flying under the radar. A regular on Instagram – he now boasts 1.1million followers – sharing his fashion trends and exotic trips, the 24-year-old once explained how American rapper A$AP Rocky is his inspiration.
He was learning to smile again in Bremen, back in Germany where he was surrounded by friends, leading the scoring charts at the club and finally shaking off his struggles in England.
But football is not the be-all-and-end-all for Gnabry. At least it wasn’t in his early twenties at the Weser Stadium.
PLAYERS WHO GOT 10/10 FROM L’EQUIPE
1. Franck Sauzee (1988)
2. Bruno Martini (1988)
3. Oleg Salenko (1994)
4. Lars Windfeld (1997)
5. Lionel Messi (2010, 2012)
6. Robert Lewandowski (2013)
7. Carlos Eduardo (2014)
8. Neymar (2018)
9. Dusan Tadic (2019)
10. Serge Gnabry (2019)
‘Football should be my main focus, but I’m also interested in fashion,’ he told WERDER.DE.
‘I scroll through Instagram and look through what’s trendy, and search for locations which might be good for photos, and then take a snap there. Why not?’
After his exploits in north London on Tuesday night, he may want to avoid surrounding areas for a while as home fans lick their wounds after a demolition job orchestrated majestically by him.
It was a performance that not only made those sleeping on his performances in Germany sit up, but he also gained membership to an exclusive 10-man club.
Gnabry became the 10th player to ever receive a 10/10 rating from French newspaper L’Equipe.
His first goal was a piece of indivudual brilliance. He picks up the ball wide on the left, just inside Tottenham’s half before driving forward, skipping over the challenge of Serge Aurier before cutting inside to fire past Hugo Lloris on his right foot. Unsaveable.
His second came minutes later after Harry Winks lost possession to Corentin Tolisso and the Frenchman played it through in Gnabry’s path and he picked out the same corner, this time with his left foot.
His hat-trick came after a pin-point ball over the top from Thiago Alcantara saw him take it down before racing clear, picking out the same corner as the first two. He was leaving Tottenham’s defenders sick and dizzy.
With one million followers on Instagram, Gnabry enjoys his life away from the football pitch
But on it he is thriving more than ever and got a rare 10/10 rating from newspaper L’Equipe
With a matter of minutes left he got his fourth – and Bayern’s seventh – when a through ball from Tolisso saw him take a touch, then fire past a helpless Lloris. It was comfortably the finest performance of his burgeoning career to date.
Dusan Tadic was the last to be welcomed in after he helped Ajax demolish Real Madrid at the Bernabeu earlier in the year. He joins Lionel Messi, Neymar and Bayern team-mate Robert Lewnadowski among the players who got the maximum rating.
He may have been cast aside by Arsenal, left out in the cold by Pulis and West Brom and sneaking under the radar at Werder Bremen, but Gnabry is a ‘killer’ these days at Bayern and if he has his way, the demolition job at Tottenham is just the start.