Within just a few months, Serge Gnabry has gone from being a talent to a mainstay in the national side. As well as that, he has become one of the faces of the new Germany side. His career began full of promise, but suffering a slight knockback. One reason for his positive development is Horst Hrubesch.
The list of his footballing coaches includes an array of famous names: Arsène Wenger, Horst Hrubesch, Stefan Kuntz, Julian Nagelsmann and his current coaches Niko Kovac und Joachim Löw. Serge Gnabry has enjoyed the various footballing education he has received – and also appreciates it. “You are open for a lot of things once you have experienced so much. You learn to adapt to each coach. They all have their own philosophies and personalities.” The FC Bayern player can look back on an already eventful career, having learnt a lot at each club. He started at Arsenal in the Premier League, and then spent time at Werder Bremen and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim, before moving to Bayern at the start of this season. Gnabry is aiming to take part in his first international tournament this summer with Germany, presuming they qualify for Euro 2020. He is considered an important part of the team that should write history.
Gnabry’s Germany career has been a short one so far, but he has a strong record. Currently, he has scored four times in five games, although he scored a hat-trick on his debut against San Marino in an 8-0 win in 2016. Gnabry has been a constant fixture in Joachim Löw’s squad since autumn 2018, starting the last three internationals of the year (he missed the Serbia game with an injury). The turning point of his international career actually came during a defeat: 2-1 away to world champions France in the Nations League in October. According to Gnabry, he “got his confidence back” during that game. Löw played a front three of Timo Werner, Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry in Saint Denis. Werner and Sané played out wide, with Gnabry in the middle. An alternative tactic saw Werner play centrally, while Gnabry and Sané rotated on the wings. The key to the trio is their variability.
Gnabry wasn’t considered as a possibility for the 2018 World Cup squad for Russia, mainly down to his injury-plagued campaign at Hoffenheim in the 2017/18 season. After a few small knocks in the first half of the season, a muscular injury in April ruined any hopes he had of making the squad. “I think I played well last season and felt in good shape. Unfortunately my injury ruined my chance,” Gnabry told the “Socrates” magazine. Injuries are part of a footballer’s career their day-to-day life. “Now I’m just happy to be fit again and playing for my country.” The summer of 2018 saw him take a big step in his career by moving to FC Bayern. Even though he didn’t travel to Russia in 2018, the summer before remains a personal highlight for him. In 2017 he won the U21 European Championship in Poland, playing all five games. In 2016 he was part of the Olympic Games side in Rio de Janeiro. Gnabry used the Olympics as a springboard to the national side, being the only player that used Rio 2016 to boost his chances of making the Löw’s side.
The Stuttgart-born man moved to Arsenal in 2011, with the North London side paying VfB Stuttgart 100,000€ compensation for the 16-year-old. That same year he then made his first-team debut at Arsenal under legendary head coach Arsène Wenger in the Premier League and the Champions League, before becoming the second-youngest league scorer after Cesc Fabregas in Arsenal’s history. The British media were quick to name him the ‘German Wunderkind’. “Spending time abroad at such a young age shapes you as an individual,” reflected Gnabry on his experiences in England. “I had to grow up, as I had to get used to a different culture and was away from home. I only saw familiar faces when I had visitors or rang people up back home.”
After three years of learning and developing, it seemed as if he had finally arrived at the ‘Gunners’ after starting three games in a row. National coach Löw had thought about including him in the 2014 World Cup squad, but a bad knee injury set him back. He was then loaned out to West Bromwich Albion for the 2015/16 season, although he returned after just half a year to London after only making one appearance. Despite having high hopes, he was sent into the youth team. Then he developed his aerial prowess. Then he met Horst Hrubesch.
The U21s head coach, who was known to be a father figure for his players, listened to Gnabry and put his confidence in him for the 2016 Olympic Games – which he paid back. He played in five games, scored six goals and reached the final. The Germany side missed out on the gold medal after losing 5-4 on penalties to hosts Brazil, who had superstar Neymar in the side. Gnabry scored his spot kick in the ‘Maracana’, with Niklas Süle, Matthias Ginter and Julian Brandt (all his teammates in the current national side) scoring too. Gnabry was the second top scorer in the tournament behind Nils Petersen, who missed the final penalty in the final. The most important thing was that Gnabry was back in the limelight after the tournament, which came as no surprise for Hrubesch. “His career path doesn’t surprise me. Serge can play in any attacking position. His best attributes mean he is stronger as a number ten or on the wings though,” commented Hrubesch. Jogi Löw is a fan of Gnabry’s ability to play in several positions as well as his eye for goal. He hopes that “Serge stays fit and healthy. If he carries on like this, he will be an extremely important player for the national side in the future.”
FC Bayern recently extended Gnabry’s contract, which was due to run until 2020, by three further years until 2023. “Serge is one of our most talented young players, who will be an important part of our future,” said sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic. “He has taken huge strides during his first season with us and we’re certain that we will have a lot of fun with him.” Gnabry is considered to be Arjen Robben’s successor on the right wing at Bayern, who will leave the club after ten years in the summer. One similarity between the two has become clear during the few months they have trained together: their love for muscles. “I’m somebody who spends a lot time in the gym – and now I have a friend there. He prepares himself well ahead of every training session and works really hard. He has a very good attitude. He wants to improve himself, which is great.”
His national side teammate Joshua Kimmich is one of his best friends, not just in the gym. “We have known each other since we were twelve and played together in the youth academy at Stuttgart,” explains Gnabry, who added that Kimmich has “a great sense of humour. As well as that, he is extremely ambitious, both on and off the pitch. He has shown us younger players what’s possible. If you perform well, you can play your well into the national team. He is a great example of how well things can go. It’s great that we’re now playing tomorrow. Kimmich was also full of compliments for Gnabry: “Serge is great to have in the team. He is extremely efficient and scores or assists a goal in almost every game. He helps us play at such a high tempo.”
Gnabry’s development is a testament to his diverse footballing education, but also his genes. His mother comes from Swabia and his father, who encouraged him as a youngster, from the Ivory Coast. “Luckily I’ve inherited things from both of them. From my mother I’ve learnt to be economical and plenty of German values and from my father I’ve learnt how to have fun in life and how to enjoy African music,” explains Gnabry. One thing is for sure for him: “The more experiences you have in life, the more chances you have to place values on things.” Because of this, Gnabry is one of a few professional sportsmen, who donate their wages for the ‘Common goal’ initiative.