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Serge Gnabry Why Germanys World Cup star didnt make it atesB

Serge Gnabry Why Germanys World Cup star didnt make it atesB

Please explain any gaps in your employment history.

Its an awkward question forSerge Gnabry, for whom those gaps relate to the 2015-16 season, when he was on loan fromArsenalatWest Bromwich Albion.

He made his debut that August at home againstChelsea, three games into the season and a month after turning 20, coming on for 12 minutes at the end of a 3-2Premier Leaguedefeat. All the goals had already been scored by the time he got on.

He then played in theLeague Cuptwice: in the first tie, a couple of days after that Chelsea game, he was taken off after 57 minutes. In the second, in mid-September, he was taken off after 68 minutes.

For the next four months, he was on the bench or out of the matchday squad altogether. That January, having made only those three appearances (plus three starts for West Broms under-21s), Arsenal recalled him early from what was supposed to be a full season with Albion.

That sort of blip on your CV can be a catastrophe for some careers. But not Gnabrys.

The following summer, Arsenal sold him to Werder Bremen of Germanys Bundesliga, for whom he made 27 league appearances in 2016-17, scoring 11 goals and providing two assists form that earned him a move to a little outfit called Bayern Munich.

After a year back out on loan at Hoffenheim, in 137 league matches for Bayern over the past four and a half seasons, Gnabry has scored 54 goals, while winning theBundesligafour times, the German double twice and the 2019-20 Champions League final.

Another line for his CV is that he is a regular in the German national team, where his goalscoring record is arguably even more impressive 20 goals from 38 caps, including starting both matches so far at thisWorld Cup.

At 27, Gnabry is one of the best wingers in the world.

West Bromwich Albion during that same period have been less impressive: relegation from the Premier League, promotion back to it, relegated again, and spending this autumn either in or just outside the bottom three of the Championship.

That disparity between the club and player makes his time at The Hawthorns an intriguing tale, and it certainly isnt a love story.

It starts with Gnabry being born in the German city of Stuttgart. He joined local club Stuttgart, then moved to the youth system at Arsenal aged 16 and, in September 2013, scored a Premier League goal for the London side againstSwansea Cityshortly after turning 18.

However, appearances for one of English footballs elite clubs were few and far between for the youngster, so in August 2015 he was sent on loan to West Brom, who were then in the Premier League and being managed by Tony Pulis. One of Gnabrys new team-mates recognised him.

In my first season at West Brom, we had Arsenal in the cup and he played in that game, former Albion striker Saido Berahino tellsThe Athletic. Steven Reid was playing,Shane Longwas playing so we had a decent team out. You could see his ability there and I remember taking note of him then.

Then he turned up at West Brom, and I thought, Wow!. I thought it was a good signing at the time. Straight away you could see in training that Serge had quality; you could tell he was a quality player out the gate. He had a good shot and he could use both feet.

While the quality was evident, people in the club were concerned about his fitness levels, having missed almost all of the previous season following a knee injury. Some also felt he arrived in the West Midlands slightly overweight. For Berahino, Gnabrys struggles to get up to speed were an early warning sign.

If a manager plays a certain way and this is the same for most managers if you dont fit into that system, it just wont work, says Berahino. I think thats what happened withAlex Pritchard(who joined on loan fromTottenham Hotspurlater in that 2015-16 season) and Serge. If youre not hitting 12 kilometres a game and youre not running up and down the pitch, then it will be tough for you.

Following his short cameo in that loss to Chelsea in late August, senior figures at the club diagnosed a lack of tactical awareness and inability to track runners in the young German. With Pulis prioritising defensive responsibilities, it became apparent Gnabry may not make the starting XI.

In terms of his quality on the ball, you could see it on the training pitch. But maybe we played in a way that didnt suit him, which made it a bad match from the start, then-Albion defender Jonas Olsson tellsThe Athletic.

For West Brom to have the opportunity to have a quality player like that of course wed take him. But from Arsenal and his agent, it was maybe not the best advice to send a player with that technical quality to a team with West Broms style of play.

By all accounts, other than a habit of occasionally arriving to training late from his Birmingham home, Gnabry had an exemplary attitude. While players from bigger clubs can arrive on loan at one of the games lesser sides with an ego, he was dedicated and ambitious.

He worked hard and he was intelligent. He had everything around him to succeed. It was just an issue of playing the wrong style of football for him, Olsson says.

You can never be sure if someone will make it to the top, but I played with (2012-13 season Chelsea loaneeRomelu) Lukakuat West Brom andReece JameswithWigan(also borrowed from Stamford Bridge in 2018-19), and those three, including Serge, were special.

They were eager and ambitious and would not kick up a fuss if things didnt go their way or they were not playing; theyre all very similar. That, combined with their tremendous ability, is clearly what is needed to go all the way.

James McClean, a fellow newcomer having been bought from Wigan Athletic that summer, proved to be a Pulis favourite, with Chris Brunt and Stephane Sessegnon also thriving in a side who would finish 14th in the 20-club Premier League.

There was no great appetite from the stands, either, to see an unproven, inexperienced loanee unseating tried and tested top-flight veterans.

That October, Pulis explained to the local newspaper, the Express & Star: Serge has come here to play games but he just hasnt been for me, at the moment, at that level to play the games.

His time at West Brom had soured. Gnabry was on the fringes with little opportunity to impress the manager, but his father, Jean-Hermann, kept encouraging him.

He was one of many players at that time that you could sense was not very happy when youre not playing, its natural, says Berahino. It didnt matter who we were playing, you knew Pulis wouldnt rotate the squad.

His dad was around the training ground a lot and even though he wasnt playing, his dad was there to support him. You could see he had a great support system around him. He wasnt around much outside of football but always with his family at the training ground. Without that support system, he may have really struggled at the time.

In the middle of January, what was meant to be a season-long loan was terminated and Gnabry returned to Arsenal without much fanfare.

He did not feature for his parent clubs first team for the rest of that season but impressed at theOlympicsin Rio de Janeiro in the summer, scoring six goals in as many games asGermanygot to the final but lost on penalties to hostsBrazil.

Gnabry, left, and Germany team-mate Jeremy Toljan show the silver medals they won at the 2016 Olympics (Photo: Deniz Calagan/Bongarts via Getty Images)

Arsenal wanted to tie him down to a new contract, but he returned from the Olympics to offers from around Europe.

He agreed to leave London for Werder Bremen, a move that set him on the path to becoming one of the worlds best players.

Now, he has a four-year contract with Bayern signed this summer and is playing for Germany at Qatar 2022, while Albion are spending this World Cup break fourth-bottom in the Championship, only out of the relegation places on goal difference.

Though in hindsight it seems like a missed opportunity for West Brom, the truth is that for players to achieve their potential at any club, a lot has to go right.

Everything has to play for you. It only takes one wrong move and one wrong environment for it not to happen, says Berahino, who is now at AEL Limassol in Cyprus the ninth club of his 12-year senior career.

I was in the England setup. Ive trained and played with the best guys across each age group in the country, so I could always tell when a player was very talented. He (Gnabry) was up there. Very good technically, but he probably didnt have the other side of the game at that point.

The improvement at Bayern made me sit up. You could see the talent from the start, but so many factors have to come into play for you to reach that level. Fair play to him, because he did it.

(Top photo: Stuart Franklin via Getty Images)

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Elias Burkeis a football reporter covering West Brom for The Athletic. Previously, he worked as a sports journalist for The Mirror and the Manchester Evening News.Follow Elias on Twitter@eliasburke