Berlin (AFP) – There are not many players who can make one of the world’s best defenders look average, but two weeks ago, Bayern Munich and Germany prodigy Serge Gnabry did just that.
A dip of the shoulder and a quick shift of weight was all it took for Gnabry to dance past the Netherlands’ Virgil van Dijk and whip the ball into the top corner in Germany’s Euro 2020 qualifier last month.
The goal was just the latest proof that Gnabry is a young player on the verge of stardom.
The 23-year-old winger has enjoyed a glistening first season at Bayern since arriving last summer, and the hype has hit fever pitch. In recent weeks, Gnabry has been making headlines with everything from his 18-yard screamers to his unusual eating habits.
On Saturday, he will line up in perhaps the most important game of his career so far, as Bayern host Borussia Dortmund in a decisive clash in the Bundesliga title race.
“It’s the biggest game of the season, and the biggest game in Germany,” Gnabry said in an interview with the Bundesliga website last week.
“Even when I was playing in England, I used to watch Bayern Dortmund games on TV.”
Gnabry has come a long way since emerging as a young talent in English football. Poached by Arsenal as a 16-year-old, he struggled with injuries during his time in England and made just 11 appearances in the Premier League, three of them during an ill-fated loan spell at West Bromwich Albion.
Yet since returning to his home country in 2016, Gnabry has blossomed. After successful spells at Werder Bremen and Hoffenheim, he is a first team regular at Bayern.
“Serge is an incredibly dynamic player on the ball,” said Bayern coach Niko Kovac last February, after Gnabry scored twice in a German Cup tie against Hertha Berlin.
– New generation –
Alongside players such as Leon Goretzka and Niklas Suele, Gnabry is a key part of Kovac’s plan to rejuvenate the Bayern squad.
With veteran winger Arjen Robben set to leave at the end of the season, Gnabry has staked his claim as a natural successor on Bayern’s right flank.
During Robben’s recent injury struggles, the youngster has stepped up with seven goals and five assists in the Bundesliga this season.
Robben took Gnabry under his wing and lavished praise on him earlier this season.
“I like Serge a lot. His attitude is very good, he always wants to improve,” said the Dutchman in October.
“Robben’s dribbling and cutting inside is incredible. I haven’t quite got mine to his level yet,” Gnabry told the Bundesliga website.
Yet Gnabry remains dangerous in front of goal, having scored in three of his last five games for Bayern.
Each goal prompts his trademark celebration, a “cooking” gesture borrowed from US basketball star James Harden.
“The celebration comes from the NBA. When James Harden scores a lot of points, he’s cooking,” Gnabry explained in February.
But it is not just on the pitch that Gnabry’s cooking habits have sparked attention. Last month, the Bayern winger caused a stir when he announced that he had switched to a vegan diet.
“I just wanted to try it out, I don’t know whether I will do it forever. But at the moment I feel good and it’s fun,” Gnabry told Bild.
Asked about Gnabry’s new diet, Bayern coach Kovac said that the players were free to choose what they ate, so long as it did not adversely affect performance.
For Gnabry, at least, it appears not to have done. Virgil van Dijk can attest to that.
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