It was on a bright spring Saturday afternoon in deepest south London that Serge Gnabry made his first impression on English football. Charlton’s training ground was the venue. In attendance were a few parents and a couple of scouts. No one else was much interested.
It was an undistinguished setting for the 15-year-old who, 10 years on, is about to play in the biggest game in club football at the Stadium of Light in Lisbon.
Serge Gnabry is set to play in the biggest game in club football at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon
Everyone knows Serge Gnabry’s name after his goals against Tottenham and Chelsea
By Sunday evening he may have earned the right to be judged the best player of this year’s extraordinary Champions League, his two goals for Bayern Munich in the semi-final against Lyon taking his total to nine in the tournament this season.
As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo depart the stage, unable to dominate the Champions League, Gnabry is part of the new generation now outshining those great players. But it is Arsenal fans who may feel the most excruciating pain when they tune in to the final and perhaps West Brom fans, wistfully recalling how he could not get a game for them while on loan in 2015.
It was Arsenal Under-16s he was starring for back in 2010. Peter Clark, Arsenal’s German scout, coincidentally sacked as part of their restructure earlier this month, stood watching nervously. It was on his recommendation this cheerful, bright German teenager had been brought over to play the trial game to see if he was worth signing.
Head scout Steve Rowley was there to check on the protege, as was head of youth development Liam Brady. ‘He was magnificent that day,’ said one spectator. ‘He was cruising it. It was too easy for him.’ What impressed most, however, was his vision and tactical intelligence. After 10 minutes, Rowley turned to Clarke. ‘Bloody hell, this boy is really good,’ said the man who had instigated signing Cesc Fabregas, Gael Clichy and Robin van Persie.
Gnabry is part of the new generation outshining greats like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
At half-time Brady joined Clark and Rowley. Evidently he did not need to see any more.
‘We’ve got to have him,’ said Brady. For Clarke it was a vindication. He had spotted Gnabry playing for Stuttgart’s youth team. He had got to know the family, dad, Jean Hermann, who was originally from the Ivory Coast and mum, Birgit, who is German.
‘Peter was going mad about him and virtually camped out with the family, getting to know them, winning their trust,’ said one source close to the deal.
‘He would drive them to games, take them out to dinner. That’s part of scouting. It’s not just spotting the player but being able to build the relationships. Peter was superb at that. He’s still in…