Already at his 10th different club, Serge Gnabry is not your run-of-the-mill 22-year-old footballer. With the World Cup upcoming, the in-form Hoffenheim forward told DW that he hasn’t given up hope of a ticket to Russia.
On-loan from league leaders Bayern Munich, Gnabry has put his injury woes from the first half of the season behind him and, spurred on by two significant incentives, is once again giving Bundesliga defenders the jitters.
Gnabry told DW’s Kick Off! that his motivation “is to live in the day, to live in the moment,” a lesson learned from his less than conventional route to the top.
A new age journeyman
Able to rattle off, in perfect order, all 10 clubs he’s played for since the start of his youth career in 1999, Gnabry credits his roots and risk-taking nature for his ability to adapt to new surroundings while still honing his skills.
In 2010, at the age of 16, Gnabry was attached to his local club, Stuttgart, when Arsenal came calling. A year later he found himself on the Gunners’ professional books, a situation that exposed him to a plethora of new experiences that have ultimately shaped him as a human being both on and off the field.
“I think the more systems you get to know or the more different approaches you try out, the more you have in your locker and the more you can offer,” Gnabry told DW.
Gnabry: “Nagelsmann is one of the best”
With a freshly-refined set of skills at his disposal, Bremen opened the door for a Bundesliga return in 2016 before Bayern locked him down last summer. With first-team opportunities limited as part of the star-studded ensemble in Munich though, the chance to add to his repertoire during a year-long loan under Julian Nagelsmann’s tutelage at Hoffenheim proved too enticing to pass up.
“For sure you can say he is one of the best,” Gnabry said of the Bundesliga’s youngest head coach. “He’s mainly the reason why I came here. I felt with him I could improve and learn a lot. There were a lot of tactical aspects to his style which I wanted to add to my game so I´m even stronger in the future.”
Find space, create space, use space
Like several players before him, Gnabry wasted little time in praising Nagelsmann’s approach to encouraging his players and even admitted he “performed better” in the weeks following the coaches’ recent critique of his consistency.
Nagelsmann’s appraisal back in February helped spark a purple patch that has seen the 22-year-old score six goals in his last six games, with a brace against Cologne offsetting the blank he drew at home to Gladbach. According to the Hoffenheim coach, work ethic and a willingness to learn were the keys.
“We worked a lot on his orientation in space. Where he has to stand and when he has to attempt breaking in behind in order to get him in front of goal quicker,” Nagelsmann explained. “That was a crucial building block. The three positions he’s played have been very valuable for him, pushing forward from an attacking full-back position or as a striker working in between the lines. As a result, he’s become familiar with different position, where his behavior off the ball is very similar.”
Russia is still on the cards
Versatility won’t do his chances of catching Joachim Löw’s eye any harm. While he conceded that it was disappointing not to be called up for the recent friendlies against France and Spain, Gnabry’s sole aim now is “to do my best and perform well so I can make the squad next time.”
“I don’t know what my chances are, you have to ask the coach for that,” was Gnabry’s by-the-book response. “I’m still very hopeful that I can make the World Cup squad. I’m trying my best. As I said, I live in the moment, so all I can do is try to perform as best as I can.”
The competition for places, especially in wide positions, is fierce in Die Mannschaft. However, Gnabry believes that is only going to help hone another promising generation of German stars.
“We all know we will have in the future a very good group of players after that generation that just did it [won the World Cup]. So I think the future is looking very bright for Germany.”
My plans for the future are establishing myself at Bayern,” he continued. “I want to settle at a club now and progress in becoming the best player I can be. I know there´s a lot of stuff I can work on and, obviously, with the World Cup coming up, I want to be part of it for sure.”
The Olympic silver medalist seems to have been one of Germany’s hottest talents for the best part of a decade. In current form though, he’s finally shedding the moniker and establishing himself amongst the Bundesliga’s elite.
Gnabry admits he’s “always one to take the risk” and, given the stage he’s currently at in his promising career, it’s fair to say that those risks have paid off. The question now is whether Joachim Löw is as willing to roll the dice. Or will a move back to Bayern Munich be the sole highlight of Gnabry’s summer?