Serge Gnabry: The rise of the underwhelmed talent


The Hard Tackle takes a look at the tremendous growth of Serge Gnabry, from an Arsenal reject to a Bayern Munich superstar.

There isn’t a greater feeling for a professional footballer than to prove the doubters wrong. Such has been the case for Serge Gnabry, whose immense growth within the past couple of years has made him one of the most sought-after young attackers in Europe.

And here, at the Hard Tackle, we will take a deep dive into the German international’s phenomenal growth from being an Arsenal reject to becoming a prominent part of the Bayern Munich attack.

Early footballing days in England

Gnabry was originally a member of the youth academy of his hometown club VfB Stuttgart. But, after showing a lot of promise in the German youth leagues, he was snapped up by Arsenal in 2011.

The winger spent two years in the U-18s before being promoted to the first-team in 2013. However, he failed to make a breakthrough at Emirates and was always overlooked by Arsene Wenger in favour of the likes of Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez and even Mesut Ozil. In fact, he spent the entire 2014/15 campaign playing for the reserve side in the U-21 PL.

The lack of gametime at Arsenal saw Gnabry move to West Bromwich Albion on loan in 2015. But, his loan spell was cut short after he was deemed ‘not good enough’ for the Baggies. He made only one Premier League appearance for the club before returning to Emirates at the start of 2016. The winger had to keep playing for the reserves during the remainder of the corresponding campaign.

ST ALBANS, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 03: (L-R) Serge Gnabry and Mikel Arteta look on during an Arsenal training session ahead of the UEFA Champions League match against RSC Anderlecht at London Colney on November 3, 2014 in St Albans, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Gnabry didn’t enjoy the best of times at Arsenal. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Annoyed with his lack of recognition at the Emirates, Gnabry finally returned to Bundesliga in the summer of 2016, when Werder Bremen signed him up for a fee of €5 million.

The resurgence at Bremen

A permanent move to Bremen in 2016 turned out to be the turning point of Gnabry’s career. He was a part of the club’s massive overhaul in the attacking department that saw the Bundesliga outfit also secure the services of Izet Hajrovic, Florian Kainz, Justin Eilers and Max Kruse.

Kainz was supposed to become the first-choice winger for Bremen. But, the Austrian never really managed to make an impact. As for Hajrovic, he suffered an unfortunate ACL injury in December, forcing Alexander Nouri to persist with Gnabry. And he didn’t disappoint either.

The ex-Stuttgart prodigy scored eleven goals and mustered two assists, helping Bremen finish in the top half of the league table. He could have been much more productive had it not been for a muscular injury during the backend of the season.

Nonetheless, Gnabry’s fiery performances at Bremen caught the attention of Bayern Munich, who secured his services for a fee of just €8 million.

A smart move by Bayern and a productive spell at Hoffenheim

Bayern, however, were aware of the fact that Gnabry will not be able to become a first-team member and played a smart move by loaning him out to TSG Hoffenheim in 2017.

FRANKFURT AM MAIN, GERMANY - APRIL 08: Serge Gnabry of Hoffenheim celebrates his team's first goal during the Bundesliga match between Eintracht Frankfurt and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim at Commerzbank-Arena on April 8, 2018 in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Stirring the pot at Hoffenheim. (Photo by Alex Grimm/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Hoffenheim were one of the most exciting teams in the league, coached by the even more exciting figure of Julian Nagelsmann. The young trainer played a crucial role in further honing the skills of Gnabry, who ended up enjoying yet another productive season at the Rhein-Neckar Arena.

Indeed, Gnabry was involved in 17 goals, helping Hoffenheim achieve an incredible third-place finish in the league. It was the best achievement in the club’s history, and the winger played a crucial role in making that happen.

Competence and a little bit of luck

Gnabry returned to Bayern Munich in 2018, after an incredible season with Hoffenheim. And it was then when he showed excellent competence and fought for a place in the first-team, in a squad full of talented individuals like Thomas Muller, James Rodriguez, Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery.

However, fortunes also favoured the German as Robben endured an early injury that kept him out for the chunk of last campaign. Same can be said for Kingsley Coman as well, with the Frenchman mustering just over 1,300 minutes of league football.

Rodriguez, meanwhile, found it difficult to adapt to Niko Kovac’s system while Muller never really managed to return to his former self. It all added up to Gnabry slowly becoming a key member of the Bayern attack. And at the end of the campaign, statistics backed it up pretty well, with the German netting ten goals and mustering seven assists.

He helped the Bavarians make an extraordinary comeback to win the Bundesliga. And a result of his performances, he was voted as the Player of the Season at Bayern Munich.

MUNICH, GERMANY - MAY 26: Serge Gnabry, Munich mayor Dieter Reiter, Renato Sanches, Franck Ribery, Thiago, Leon Goretzka and goalkeeper Manuel Neuer (L-R) of FC Bayern Muenchen celebrate winning the Bundesliga title and the German Cup title for the season 2018/19 on the balcony of the town hall at Marienplatz on May 26, 2019 in Munich, Germany. (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Success came calling! (Photo by Alexandra Beier/Bongarts/Getty Images)

What’s next?

Gnabry is currently the first-choice right-winger for Bayern, following the departure of both Robben and Ribery. However, the record champions have signed Philippe Coutinho and Ivan Perisic on loan, both of whom will add significant competition in the attacking department.

That being said, it is unlikely to deter Gnabry’s status as a key member of the Bayern attack. And it will be interesting to see whether or not the 24-year-old performs for the country as well, ahead of the upcoming European Championship next year.


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