How do you go from being told you're not good enough to becoming a key player for club and country? Just ask Bayern Munich's Serge Gnabry, who has proven his West Bromwich Albion doubters wrong to arguably become Germany's most feared attacker.
"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." It seems an extraordinary misjudgment with hindsight, but that was the view of West Brom manager Tony Pulis of Gnabry in October 2015, having taken the then-20-year-old on loan from Arsenal.
Fast forward seven years and Gnabry appears unplayable. He's had a direct hand in over 120 goals almost halfway into his fifth season at Bayern, and has 21 goals and eight assists to show for his first 39 senior international appearances for Germany.
"He's dynamic and a real threat in front of goal," Germany and former Bayern coach Hansi Flick said of Gnabry. "He's on his way to reaching world-class level."
Watch: The inexorable rise of Serge Gnabry
So how did Gnabry get to where he is, having been deemed surplus to requirements at West Brom? Well, arguably it is thanks to that experience that the Stuttgart-born attacker has developed into the player he is today.
"I tried my best at West Brom and it didn't work out," he told the Mail on Sunday. "Mentally for me, in that time at West Brom, I said to myself: 'Even though I have zero chance of playing, all I can do is work hard.' You always know your worth, off the pitch or on the pitch. I knew my capabilities. But I would say the mental side progressed really high during that time and helped me be who I am now."
That new-found strength also helped Gnabry take a difficult decision at the end of his spell in the West Midlands in 2015/16, when he opted to leave Arsenal and join Werder Bremen. He has not looked back since.
Watch: Gnabry's Bundesliga highlight reel
Gnabry plundered 11 goals in 27 Bundesliga games for the Green-Whites the following season, enough to persuade Bayern to secure his signature.
However, the attacker was aware he only had one full year of first-team football behind him and requested to be loaned to Hoffenheim in order to better equip himself for the challenge of competing with the likes of Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery and Kingsley Coman at the Allianz Arena.
It proved to be another wise decision and working under a shrewd coach in Julian Nagelsmann in 2017/18, Gnabry continued to develop. He learned to play in a variety of positions, including centre forward, across the midfield and even as a wing-back, and again reached double figures by scoring 10 in 22 games, including one sensational long-range effort against RB Leipzig.
Watch: Gnabry's wonderstrike against Leipzig
That was followed up by his barnstorming maiden season at Bayern in 2018/19, where he became just the third player in Bundesliga history to hit double figures for three different clubs in consecutive seasons.
Gnabry was voted as Bayern's Player of the Season for his efforts, beating the likes of Robert Lewandowski, Thomas Müller and Joshua Kimmich to the accolade after providing six assists and 13 goals in 42 competitive outings.
Anything but a one-hit-wonder, he's reached double figures for single-season goals in every Bundesliga campaign since, and has already registered 10 goals and as many assists in 23 competitive games up to the start of the 2022 World Cup.
Those numbers are reflected on the international stage, where Gnabry is his country's top scorer of the post-2018 World Cup cycle with 18 goals across 37 games. He's contributed eight assists in that time, including two against reigning European champions Italy to go with his five goals in his 13 appearances since Flick replaced Jochim Löw in the hotseat.
There can be no arguing that he is, in the words of Pulis, very much "at the level". The "world-class level" Flick touched on during Bayern's 2020 sextuple-winning campaign.
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