It is no small feat to be voted FC Bayern’s player of the season in your maiden campaign. Serge Gnabry took München by storm in 2018-19 and has picked up where he left off in the current season. How was Tony Pulis so wrong?
“Not good enough for West Brom” is a phrase commonly associated with Serge Gnabry. It was the nightmarish finale to his five-year spell in England. Gnabry put an end to that in 2016 with a move to Werder Bremen. His form in 2016-17 caught Bayern’s attention long enough to sign him and send him on loan to Hoffenheim, where he spent the 2017-18 season.
A journey beyond his age
Thus, a journey Gnabry started in 2011 culminated with his debut season for Bayern in 2018. Not without reason, many fans remained wary of Gnabry. Still 23, he was unproven in a club as big as Bayern. However, Gnabry presented himself as a player hardened and emboldened by his travels. Lest we forget, he was only 16 when he signed for Arsenal. When he made his debut, he was the second-youngest player to play for the Gunners. And despite a troubled spell in North London, many fans voiced their discontent with club management when they offloaded Gnabry to Bremen.
Like most Bayern players early last season, Gnabry rode a wave of feel-good sensations. And when things turned ugly for Niko Kovač, Gnabry was one of the few men who kept the team going. We constantly acknowledged his consistency in our Twitter account, and Michel named him as the season’s revelation in his end-of-year editorial. The chef cooked 13 goals of his own in 2018-19 and served as sous-chef in another 9. He earned himself a good 2,451 minutes of playing time, in Arjen Robben’s farewell year no less.
This year, Gnabry is past the halfway mark of his achievements last season: he has scored nine goals and assisted six in 1,191 minutes – less than half his total last year. Such stats include the four-goal masterclass he gave against Tottenham.
One last general indication of Gnabry’s stellar rise is his performance with the national team. Having consolidated himself as an undisputed starter in the past year and a half, Gnabry has equaled Gerd Müller’s mark of 13 goals in his first 13 international caps.
The diamond in brute
Gnabry has been lauded as one of Europe’s best raw talents for quite some time now. We can safely conclude that his development in England was slowed and hampered by Arsenal and West Bromwich. His move to Bremen was thus a preventive reboot of his career. Gnabry returned seeking the development the English clubs could never afford him, the kind of work that he deprived himself of, starstruck by the sight of an Arsenal contract at age 16.
He benefitted greatly from a year under Julian Nagelsmann. Gnabry flourished and became more than just a wide player. He honed his interpretation skills, his positioning, and added more intelligence to his already technical repertoire. Gnabry is a man who can occupy either wing, the centre-forward spot and a host of others in midfield As the cliché goes, 2016-17 and 2017-18 polished the brute diamond by the name of Serge Gnabry. And now it’s left to Bayern to enjoy the spoils.
Part of something bigger?
Gnabry is only but the latest of a new generation of German footballers that are starting to make headlines in Europe. We already know names like Leroy Sané, Leon Goretzka, Joshua Kimmich, Niklas Süle, Timo Werner, Lukas Klostermann, and Marcel Halstenberg. These lads are only two or three years apart, born between 1994 and 1996.
With Joachim Löw’s cumbersome handling of the generational change in Die Mannschaft (which we’ve written at length about), this lot are only now starting to bind together in an international context. But they’ve been playing at high levels for their clubs for quite some time now. Given that Bayern usually have a disproportionate percentage of DFB players in their squad, a positive feedback loop is created. They work on their chemistry, their muscular memory and the automatisms of modern football at the club. They bring that to the national team. And vice versa.
As such, Gnabry is not only a new part of the generational change at Bayern and the DFB. He is a result of it. And as always, the newest start always shines brightest.