Serge Gnabry: The Emerging Superstar Who Conquered London Twice

As Bayern's number 23 strode effortlessly onto Robert Lewandowski's expertly-weighted pass in behind a gaping Chelsea defence, there was a sense of inevitability about what would happen next.

Just three minutes prior, the same combination of Serge Gnabry and Lewandowski had teamed up to score Bayern Munich's opener in the first leg of their Champions League round of 16 tie at Stamford Bridge; with Gnabry making the most of a Cesar Azpilicueta slip to drive in-field before combing telepathically with the Pole.

Jorginho, Serge Gnabry
Serge Gnabry's brace at Stamford Bridge helped Bayern to a 3-0 first leg advantage in their Champions League round of 16 tie with Chelsea | Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

His finish was emphatic, with the crisp sound of the ball crashing home going right through the despairing Shed End.

And after taking a swift look up at the positioning of Chelsea shot-stopper following a second deadly combination with Lewandowski, the German decided that a sweeping left-footed effort across the Argentine would be sufficient. He wasn't wrong.

Gnabry's quick-fire brace paved way for a comfortable 3-0 victory for Die Roten, with the 24-year-old returning to conquer the English capital just like he had in such ruthless fashion five months prior.

Very rarely do you see a player dismantle an opponent with the sheer ferocity and efficiency that Gnabry did on October 1st.

His fierce drive after 90 seconds which was smartly parried away by Hugo Lloris would serve as a mere marker for the second-half of utter destruction he'd embark upon. With Bayern holding a 2-1 advantage at the break, Gnabry took full advantage of Serge Aurier being, well, Serge Aurier, to skip past the impulsive Ivorian's reckless slide challenge before cutting inside a slow-turning Toby Alderweireld and finishing beyond Lloris.

A precise side-footed effort was enough for his second barely two minutes later, while his third and fourth in the closing stages were dispatched with the same brutishness as his first to seal a famous 7-2 victory.

The 24-year-old had announced himself to the world with one of the most outstanding individual displays in Champions League history. Gnabry had come full circle on that October night in N17, three years after permanently ending his venture just four miles down the road at Arsenal.

It's a journey that started in 2009 when Peter Clark - then Germany scout for the Gunners - picked the fleet-footed Stuttgart youngster out at an indoor tournament in Blaubeuren in 2009, with Gnabry revealing that Clark "knew after 10 minutes that he wanted to sign me".

Thus, at the tender age of 16, the German was a Gooner and after spending a year dazzling in the youth ranks, he earned his first taste of first-team action during pre-season ahead of the 2012/13 campaign.

Debuts in both the Premier League and Champions League were forthcoming in a central midfield role, but a nagging knee injury halted his progress in 2014. Opportunities in north London started to fade and loan move was imperative to reignite his senior career.

Tony Pulis and West Brom was the chosen destination, but it was a switch which Gnabry said: "backfired completely".

“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."

Tony Pulis (then West Brom manager)

The combination of an inexperienced, maverick talent with an old-school coach in a defensive side was a putrid mix. It was no place for Gnabry to even earn a chance to shine, let alone thrive.

“It was a very tough time for me. I still can’t tell why it went this way but I can look at myself in the mirror and say that I tried as much as I could. I sought to talk to him as well but never really got an answer. Only the manager can say why he didn’t want me,” the Bayern man said of his time in the Midlands.

Thus, with the highly-rated Stuttgart academy product's career seemingly destined to join Alexandre Pato and co. in the 'what could've been' category, Gnabry earned his big break at the 2016 summer Olympics, in which he finished the tournament as leading scorer with six strikes.

Serge Gnabry
Gnabry earned his big break at the 2016 summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro | Pedro Vilela/Getty Images

His supreme talent hadn't diminished by any means. The then 21-year-old just needed to find a welcoming home to excel. Step forward, Werder Bremen.

€5m was all that was required to sign the German after he rejected a contract extension at Arsenal, and teaming up with progressive coach Alexander Nouri - who succeeded Viktor Skripnik - proved a match made in heaven. He was the key spoke in an exuberant Werder side and despite enduring further injury woes, he finished the 2016/17 season with 11 goals and two assists.

His bright campaign was enough for German football monopolisers Bayern to take a shot on him, signing Gnabry in a deal just shy of €8m. As bargains go...

However, his journey to Bavaria had one final stopover with a loan move to Hoffenheim for the 2017/18 season where Gnabry's development was boosted by the work of 'Menschenfänger’ Julian Nagelsmann.

Julian Nagelsmann was a huge factor in Gnabry's exponential growth
Julian Nagelsmann was a huge factor in Gnabry's exponential growth | TF-Images/Getty Images

In an enticing 3-1-4-2 set-up, Gnabry was part of a midfield that was crucial in all phases. Their main role was to push wide, create overloads on the flanks and exploit opposition defences via combinations. And with a player as jet-heeled as Gnabry, it was a perfect tactical fit. The additional space created for him by his teammates’ astute movement granted him greater freedom to weave his magic and Gnabry evolved into a transitional powerhouse under Nagelsmann, while his capacity to fulfil a number of roles enticed the generational German boss.

His 17 goal contributions in just 22 Bundesliga appearances highlight the impact Gnabry had on Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim. He was an invaluable asset as they secured their maiden appearance in the Champions League group stage following a third-place finish.

With his stock at an all-time high, his return to Bayern couldn't have been timed better.

Following the respective departures of the 'Robbery' double act, Die Roten was at the start of a new era under recently appointed head coach Niko Kovac. There was a heavy burden on Gnabry to shine from the get-go, but boy did he deliver as his 22 goal contributions in all competitions lifted Bayern to another domestic double - winning the club's Player of the Season award in the process.

And despite being one of the few Bayern stars to shine under the pragmatic Kovac, Gnabry's continued to evolve under Hansi Flick with Die Roten already bagging the Bundesliga title and DfB-Pokal crown amid their charge for the treble this term.

Serge Gnabry
Gnabry scored his 20th goal of the season with his brilliantly taken strike against Bayer Leverkusen in the DFB-Pokal final | Pool/Getty Images

The versatility which he's shown off throughout his career is exceptional; the German can play off both flanks at ease, while his ambidexterity and frightening explosiveness make him an unpredictable and incredibly dangerous proposition for defenders. He's almost unstoppable at times.

His two London conquests were no mere anomalies in a stuttering career, but instead two watershed moments on his way to stardom.

Serge Gnabry's not only set to be pivotal in defining the new era for Bayern and the German national team, but he may well prove to be the finest German talent of his generation when it's all said and done.