Six months ago, I wrote a piece outlining the importance of talented winger Serge Gnabry gaining first-team experience at another Premier League club.
After seamlessly settling into first-team action two seasons ago, his progress was unfortunately halted by a serious long-term injury. He’s needed to stay positive and have plenty of mental strength to remain focused on his aspirations – as opposed to losing morale and motivation.
When the loan deal was initially agreed, signs were encouraging. Gnabry was finally getting his opportunity to shine in a healthy environment within England’s top flight, at a team where his arrival would add more competition for places, but also give him a platform to cement his credentials.
So at the end of October, when Tony Pulis stated that Gnabry just wasn’t good enough to play for his side, plenty of supporters and critics alike were surprised by his claims.
In hindsight, perhaps that news shouldn’t have been so surprising. After all, these are the words of a manager whose success has stemmed his time at Stoke, as well as a short but sweet campaign with Crystal Palace.
In terms of his style of management, he’s been able to make the best of seemingly limited players, utilising them effectively. Although, success at Stoke was partly due to the physical nature of, and the long-ball style of play that his sides adopted to defeat opponents with tricky, talented players in their ranks.
Looking back at Gnabry, what does the future hold? He turns 21 in July and is still in the frame internationally for Germany – despite his injury woes over the past few seasons. That in itself proves he still does have the talent to succeed, if he’s given the right platform to do so.
What should happen, then? Another loan, either in Premier League or Championship. It’s clear to see the talented German is still in with a chance of breaking into the first-team at the Emirates. After all, the emergence of players like Francis Coquelin and Joel Campbell over the past year have proven that nothing is set in stone about players’ futures at the club.
Gnabry played three u21 games, two League Cup appearances and made one Premier League cameo earlier on in the campaign – an energetic display against Chelsea, where the Baggies lost 3-2.
When I saw him being introduced at the Hawthorns, I was excited about the possibility of him hitting some encouraging form and helping boost West Brom’s chances of more than a mid-table finish in what has been an unpredictable season thus far.
Since then, we’ve collectively heard less and less about him, even though he’s fit to play and hasn’t had any disputes/attitude problems since his arrival in the west Midlands.
In terms of overall progression, it’s important for young players to get regular experience at a high level – to bridge the gap between youth level and competitive football, not least to cope with the demands of playing week-in, week-out in the Premier League.
A prime example of this is Chelsea’s Ruben Loftus-Cheek. An immensely talented midfielder, the recently-turned 20-year-old has played a mere 62 Premier League minutes this term despite being promised an extended run-in the side.
We’ve already seen plenty of examples of youngsters going out on loan and enjoying their football this season. Ainsley Maitland-Niles (18) and Gedion Zelalem (19) have both been tipped to have bright futures at Arsenal and they’ve already accumulated 43 first-team games (all competitions) between them this term – the season’s not even over!
Gnabry needs to do a similar thing, but having endured a forgettable experience elsewhere, it’s important to weigh up all options before deciding on his next move. A team like Everton, Swansea or even closer to home, Crystal Palace, would suit Gnabry’s style of play as he loves to beat players both on and off the ball, creates chances out of seemingly nothing and can definitely provide attacking flair in the final third.
Wherever he goes, one can only hope it’s the best place for him to enhance his development. After six months seemingly wasted at West Brom, you’d expect him to grab an opportunity with both hands.