The Bavarian midfielder played under the German tactician at Hoffenheim.
Serge Gnabry may be a full Germany international and Bayern Munich’s Player of the Season for 2018/19, but he has not forgotten how he got there and has singled out his former coach at Hoffenheim, Julian Nagelsmann, for particular praise in making him the player he is today.
Gnabry left the VfB Stuttgart academy at the age of 16 to join Arsenal and despite making it to the fringes of the first team, injuries and lack of opportunity meant he was unable to establish himself at the English Premier League side.
It is a frustration well known to many a budding young footballer, even more so for Gnabry after shining for Germany at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. As such he was left, at the age of 21 – at a crossroads in his career. Should stick it out and hope for more playing opportunities in the English capital or venture elsewhere in a bid to make it as a pro?
He opted for the latter and has not looked back since. “Then came the decision to join Werder Bremen,” he told German broadcaster DAZN. “I got a lot of game time there and was able to maintain the rhythm I had generated at the Olympics.”
He certainly did, hitting 11 goals in 27 Bundesliga outings whilst on loan at the Green-Whites during the 2016/17 season. That prompted Bayern to secure his signature, but, rather than heading straight to the Allianz Arena, Gnabry decided that a second full season of regular first-team football would give him a better chance of making the grade at the record Bundesliga champions.
“I said to myself: ‘Before I go to Bayern, I want to take another step and I want to get closer to playing continuously. That step was Hoffenheim.”
With hindsight, it has proved to be a win-win-win situation for all parties involved.
“Julian Nagelsmann fascinated me,” Gnabry said, explaining his choice of a year on loan in Sinsheim. “Before that, the season before I had played against Hoffenheim and in the second half of the season… well… we took a real hiding, but their style of play appealed to me, it was so attacking.”
Nagelsmann worked his magic on Gnabry, too, fielding him in a variety of positions, including central playmaker, forward, wing-back and his more natural position as a winger.
By now a full Germany international, Gnabry steadily improved under Nagelsmann’s guidance, registering 10 goals – including one 43-yard stunner – and five assists as Hoffenheim secured their first-ever UEFA Champions League qualification thanks to a third-placed finish in the Bundesliga.
“I think, after the season I had in Hoffenheim, Bayern was the next logical step and that’s where I want to really make my mark,” he continued. “My path was longer and I had to work my hardest and give my best at all times. I personally believe you get back what you put in, not just in football, but in everything.”
Ten Bundesliga goals and eight assists were the fruits of a stunning debut campaign at Bayern, prompting club president Uli Hoeneß to call him “the biggest surprise of the season,” before he was voted as the team’s Player of the Year.
For a side including the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Manuel Neuer and Thiago, among several others, that is no small feat. And it has only whet his appetite for more going into 2019/20.
“The aim is clear. After winning the Bundesliga title and the DFB Cup with Bayern, I want to win the UEFA Champions League.
“A big source of motivation for me comes from wanting to pick up where I left off last season, get even better and to produce even better performances.
“No one can provide any guarantees in football, no matter who you are. So you should never rest on what you achieved last season or the season before that.”
Bundesliga defenders: you have been warned.