“You could knock me over with a feather. He’s really fulfilled his potential,” said former West Brom boss Tony Pulis on Sky Sports when told about Serge Gnabry’s four goals in Bayern Munich’s 7-2 humiliation of Tottenham in the Champions League.
The comments were strikingly different from the those made by Pulis back in 2015 when he had Gnabry on loan at West Brom from Arsenal.
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“Serge has come here to play games but he just hasn’t been for me, at the moment, at that level to play the games,” Pulis said. Shortly afterwards the German was sent back to Arsenal, who sold him on to Werder Bremen for just £4m in 2016.
From Arsenal and West Brom struggler to Champions League record-breaker, we look at the rise of Serge Gnabry
Serge Gnabry – Factfile Age: 24 Position: Winger Club: Bayern Munich Games for Bayern: 50 Goals for Bayern: 18 Nationality: German International caps: 10 International goals: 9 Arsenal’s ‘great hope’
Gnabry joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old from hometown club VfB Stuttgart in 2011 for a fee in the region of £100,000.
He was a player Arsene Wenger always had high hopes for. “Serge Gnabry is a great hope for the future. I rate him highly. If he continues his development, I think he could play in the first team this season,” the Frenchman said after signing the German forward back in 2011.
“At the moment, he needs to work and ensure he remains fit.”
That was always a problem for Gnabry at Arsenal.
He burst onto the scene in just his second year in north London, making his first-team debut at 17 in September 2012, replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for the final 18 minutes of the Gunners’ League Cup tie with Coventry.
A month later he became Arsenal’s second-youngest Premier League player behind Jack Wilshere and just four days later he made his Champions League debut for the Gunners, but his real breakthrough came in the following season as he played 14 times for the club in all competitions before a knee injury sustained against Bayern Munich cut his season short.
The injury also ruled him out of the entire 2014/15 campaign, but Wenger refused to give up on his “great hope”.
Serge Gnabry’s Premier League stats vs Bundesliga stats Premier League Bundesliga Games: 11 Games: 84 Goals: 1 Goals:32 ‘Not at the level for West Brom’
“We signed Serge Gnabry because I believe that he will be a great player. He’s nearly there now, and competes for a regular place in the team in the Premier League. He’s a powerful offensive player and I believe that he will be a great player for Arsenal Football Club.”
Despite the injury set-back, Wenger still believed in Gnabry, who signed a new long-term contract with the club in October 2013.
He returned to full fitness for the start of the 2015/16 season and Arsenal sent him out on loan to West Brom in a bid to get him some more first-team experience.
“I’m very delighted by the move,” Gnabry said on his arrival at the Hawthorns. “We’re delighted to add Serge to our options,” said Baggies boss Tony Pulis. “He is a top player and he will bring us quality in certain areas of the pitch.”
It looked like a good move for all parties, but what transpired was anything but.
Gnabry’s spell at the Hawthorns consisted of just 12 minutes of Premier League football under Pulis, who sent the German winger back to Arsenal after just six months.
“Serge has come here to play games but he just hasn’t been for me, at the moment, at that level to play the games,” Pulis told the Express and Star newspaper in October 2015.
“He’s come from academy football and not played much league football – does academy football really prepare players for league football? And we’re talking about Premier League football here. As a manager you pick a team that’s going to win a game of football. You pick your best team – you don’t leave people out because you don’t like them, because of this, that and the other.”
Three months later and Gnabry was back at Arsenal.
Move to Werder Bremen
Gnabry returned to Arsenal in the summer of 2016 with an Olympic silver medal after becoming the tournament’s joint-top scorer at the 2016 Olympics in Rio.
The Gunners got straight to work on a new deal for the youngster with Wenger urging him to stay at the Emirates Stadium, but Gnabry needed a change.
“We didn’t want to get rid of Gnabry, we wanted to keep him,” Wenger said. “But he was in the last year of his contract. We were close to extending his contract but finally he changed his mind and went to Werder Bremen. But I think we taught him a lot and I think if you ask him he would agree with that.”
Gnabry moved back to Germany with Werder Bremen and it proved to be the right decision.
As a regular starter, Gnabry started to fulfil the promise Wenger had talked about for so long. He scored 11 goals in 27 league games for Alexander Nouri’s side, helping them to an eighth-place finish in the Bundesliga.
His form helped earn him a Germany call-up from Joachim Low and he scored a hat-trick on his senior international debut against San Marino.
But it wasn’t just Germany that came calling. With interest from some of Germany’s top clubs building, Gnabry activated a clause in his contract which allowed him to leave Werder Bremen less than 12 months after he joined
Bayern Munich wasted no time in securing his signature for just €8m, tying him down to a three-year deal at the Allianz Arena.
Fit and firing at Bayern
Gnabry’s career at Bayern did not start straight away, with the forward immediately sent out on a season-long loan to Hoffenheim to gain more first-team experience.
But unlike his time at West Brom, this loan spell was a huge success. He made 22 league appearances in the 2017/18 campaign, scoring 10 goals as Hoffenheim secured Champions League football for the first time in the club’s history with a third-place finish.
He returned to Bayern in the summer of 2018 ready to deliver on the biggest stage.
“I wouldn’t be sat here if I wasn’t ready for the challenge,” Gnabry said speaking alongside the then-new head coach Niko Kovac at his first press conference as a Bayern player. “I think the best way to see what I can do is just by watching me. I really enjoyed the second half of the season with Hoffenheim because I played as much as possible. Now I’m ready to bring that feeling to Munich.”
And how right he was.
Gnabry’s career has flourished ever since. In his first season at the Allianz Arena he won his first Bundesliga title as Bayern finished two points above Borussia Dortmund.
He finished the season as Bayern’s second top scorer with 10 goals in 30 matches behind Robert Lewandowski and continued to impress on the international stage with Germany. He now has nine goals in 10 games for Low’s side, the last of which came against Northern Ireland last month.
The return to north London
And then there was Tuesday night at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
He showed everybody what English football was missing when he became only the second German to score four or more goals in a Champions League match alongside former Bayern forward Mario Gomez.
Wenger knew though, didn’t he?
“He has technical ability, he has power, he has pace, he has finishing quality and he can give a final ball,” the Frenchman said describing Gnabry back in 2013.
On his first return to north London since leaving Arsenal, Gnabry had Wenger’s words ringing in his ears as he produced a display of scintillating speed, sublime skill and clinical finishing to score four second-half goals as Bayern hit seven past Spurs.
He received plaudit after plaudit for his performance, but the endorsement from former boss Pulis might have pleased him more than any other.