Serge Gnabry’s loan spell at West Bromwich Albion was one of the most difficult periods of his professional career. He was loaned to “The Baggies” from Arsenal for a season in the summer of 2015 with the goal being to gain some valuable first-team experience in the Premier League, which West Brom have since been relegated from. He had joined Arsenal from VfB Stuttgart’s youth teams in 2011 at only 16 years of age and impressed for the Gunners’s U-18’s, prompting a call up to the reserve team, and eventually, the first team. While the intentions for his loan move to West Brom were all to support his top flight experience and development, that’s not exactly how it went.
In a recent piece from Player’s Tribune, Gnabry recounted what his spell at West Brom was like, and how he’s still somewhat confused by it. He had experienced a troubling knee injury before he went out on loan, which caused him to face a long spell on the sidelines, and then-West Brom manager Tony Pulis was well aware of that. Even with that knowledge, Gnabry is still unsure as to why he hardly got any playing time with West Brom’s first team even when he was healthy and fit: “You know what’s funny? For everything that’s been written in the papers about my time at West Brom, and what the manager thought of me and everything, I think I’m still just confused.”
After being swayed to choose West Brom for his loan spell because of Pulis’s desire to have him in the team, Gnabry still doesn’t understand why he only made a total of 3 competitive appearances for the senior squad. While the coach and the staff are ultimately the ones who have the final say in personnel decisions, Gnabry revealed that he never got an explanation as to why he was hardly playing: “When I got there, I was really positive about everything. The reason I chose West Brom over some other clubs is because of how much the manager seemed to want me there. Obviously, I wasn’t 100% fit. I was coming off such a long recovery. And obviously, I’m a certain kind of attacking player, and West Brom wanted to play a different way. But then … why did you bring me there? I got a 15-minute run at the end of the Chelsea match, and then I wasn’t even in the squad after that. I sat in the stands for six months, doubting myself, and I never got an explanation why.”
Of course, he was only 19 years old during his loan spell at West Brom, so he even admitted that he could’ve been making mistakes during training sessions that were contributing to his lack of playing time. Still, though, he feels that he was giving his 100% effort day in and day out there, which still leaves him puzzled to have read things that were written about him at the time the claimed he was lazy and not in proper fitness: “I wasn’t a perfect player. I was 19 years old. I was probably making mistakes in training. But, genuinely — and I am being 100% honest — I was giving everything I could. I can look at myself in the mirror today and say that. Then, of course, I started reading that I’m lazy, and I’m out of fitness, and I don’t have the level … it was so frustrating”
Not playing and reading all of the negative stories about himself created a lot of anger inside Gnabry, and he said it was an incredibly difficult period to get through, especially after all of the hard work he had put in. Fast forwarding to the 2016/2017 season, Gnabry impressed at Werder Bremen, where he scored 11 goals from a total of 27 appearances. He was then bought by Bayern in 2017 and loaned out to TSG Hoffenheim for the 2017/2018 season, when he scored 10 goals from a total 23 appearances before returning to Bayern for the 2018/2019 season. That period from 2016-2018, he said, was crucial for the progression of his career: “For me, I had to take that step back to be able to take a step forward. Coming back to Germany to play for Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim was life-changing for me — as a person more than as a footballer. To come home after leaving all my friends at 16, and to be at clubs that actually wanted me, it was incredible.