Serge Gnabry is now a two-time Bundesliga winner and defending UEFA Champions League champion, and the 25-year-old is adamant that a once ill-fated loan spell with West Bromwich Albion was the making of a player that now has his sights on one day lifting the Ballon d’Or.
“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.”
Welsh coach Tony Pulis will forever be remembered for these words, directed in October 2015 at a 20-year-old Gnabry on-loan at English Premier League outfit West Bromwich Albion.
Over the course of a six-month spell in the Midlands, Gnabry managed just 12 minutes in a single Premier League appearance under Pulis and he was sent back to parent club Arsenal with his future in doubt.
For some young players this kind of chastening experience could easily have marked the beginning of the end of their careers at football’s highest level.
Gnabry, however, believes that without this low he would never have experienced the high of August’s treble-sealing Champions League victory.
“At the end of day, if I didn’t go to West Brom, if it didn’t go how it did, I wouldn’t be here at Bayern Munich now, I wouldn’t be a Champions League winner, I wouldn’t have had five trophies in one season and be playing, I think, in the best team in the world,” Gnabry told The Mail on Sunday.
“It didn’t go well at West Brom but I just kept working and that’s one of things I adopted: always keep working.”
Gnabry describes that period of his career as making him “tougher” as a player, and what has been English football’s loss has certainly been Germany’s gain.
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The Bayern winger did not play in the Premier League again after his 12 minutes in the 3-2 defeat to Chelsea in August 2015, moving to - and starring at - Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim before eventually joining Bayern in 2018.
Three years on from settling in Bavaria, Gnabry has 14 goals in 17 appearances for his country, won back-to-back Bundesliga and DFB Cup titles as well as that European glory, while his sights are now firmly set on yet more success; as both a collective and an individual.
“I think for myself the ambition is to become better and better, to get into a FIFA World XI and in the end, you never know. I think every footballer aims for the Ballon D’Or,” said Gnabry, who is confident of Hansi Flick’s side defending their Champions League crown having set up a meeting with Lazio in the last-16 of this year’s competition.
“We have a team at the moment that’s filled with so much talent, so much character, so much drive. Our aim is or will be to win the Champions League as many times as we can, whilst we’re at that peak.
“The confidence we have by winning it last year to be sure gives us another boost and the way we’re playing, the way we don’t give up. We’re hungry [but] we all know it’s difficult.”
Bayern are next in action on Wednesday - with Gnabry perhaps pushing for a return after he missed the side's 3-2 defeat at Borussia Mönchengladbach on Sunday with a bruised knee - when they take on Holstein Kiel knowing that five more wins will see them retain the DFB Cup for a third year in succession.