Serge Gnabry: How a Tony Pulis Flop at West Brom Transformed Into Bayern Munich's Player of the Year

Ben Carter

After his first full season at Bayern Munich, Serge Gnabry has been crowned as the Bundesliga champions' Player of the Season, but it's not been such a straight forward journey to the top for the 23-year-old forward. 

Poached by Premier League giants Arsenal at the age of 15, the Germany international's move to England was delayed by a year due to age restrictions, but Gnabry still had expectations piled onto him early on after a 30-goal haul with VfB Stuttgart's Under-16 side before the move.

It was no surprise that Gnabry hit the ground running when he finally arrived in north London, featuring six times in the Premier League's reserve league, alongside players who were already three years his senior like Thomas Eisfeld - dubbed early on as 'the next Mario Götze' - and Oguzhan Özyakup.

It wasn't long before Gnabry found himself in the first team alongside compatriot and then club-record signing Mesut Özil, making both his Premier League and Champions League debut within a four-day spell.

Unfortunately for the now 23-year-old, he would only ever make nine more top-flight appearances for Arsenal's first team, being forced to endure a horrid loan spell with West Brom before eventually being sent back to Germany.

It was during Gnabry's six-month spell in the West Midlands that manager Tony Pulis provided a soundbite which has since been immortalised.

"Serge has come [to West Brom] to play games but he just hasn't been for me, at the moment, at that level to play the games," Pulis said, quoted by The Express & Star. "He's come from academy football and not played much league football."

Fast forward to the end of that 2015/16 season and Gnabry finds himself in the transfer market, eventually sealing a deadline day move to northwest Germany, joining SV Werder Bremen for just €5m.

Moving back to Germany came just days after Die Mannschaft were beaten in a penalty shootout against host nation Brazil in the Olympic Games, although Gnabry did finish as the competition's top scorer ahead of Neymar and Nigerian forward Umar Sadiq. 

His move to the Wesser Stadion was surrounded by rumours of interference from Bayern Munich, but Gnabry didn't let talk off the pitch affect his performances on it, going on to score 11 goals during his maiden season in the Bundesliga.

Gnabry's move to Bremen did prove to be nothing more than an informal loan from Bayern Munich - he moved to Bavaria in 2017 for just €8m - but he was sent back out straight away by the decision makers at the Allianz Arena.

This time, Gnabry was sent to work under managerial wonderkid Julian Nagelsmann at TSG Hoffenheim.

Unlike before, however, Gnabry spent the majority of his time playing through the middle in Nagelsmann's versatile system, and once again the Germany international reached double figures during the league campaign.

Hoffenheim wanted him back for another season, but Bayern Munich's top brass had seen enough to convince them he could make the step up.

It wasn't the easiest of starts in Bavaria as Gnabry didn't score his first goal for the club until November in a disappointing draw at home to Freiburg, where Lucas Höler's 89th-minute strike for the visitors summed up Bayern Munich's Hinrunde in a nutshell.

But that goal saw Gnabry kick on from a personal point of view, going on to end the season with a tally of 13 goals and nine assists after making 42 appearances - the most in a single campaign in his entire career - across all competitions.

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Most importantly, however, is that Gnabry has taken the first step on the road to achieving what he wants to with Bayern Munich, and that's winning trophies.

Ending the campaign with a domestic double to his name, Gnabry was a consistently vital part of Bayern Munich during their league campaign, where the Bavarians had to overturn a large point gap with Borussia Dortmund to reclaim the title.

In the DFB-Pokal, outstanding performances against Hertha BSC and 1. FC Heidenheim helped carry Bayern Munich to the final in Berlin, where they made light work of Ralf Rangnick's RB Leipzig.

It wasn't a season without its faults for Gnabry, or Bayern Munich on the whole, but the former Arsenal star showed exactly why he's been shown so much faith at Säbener Strasse, and how he could grow to be one half of the club's next set of generation-defining wingers.