Spotlight brightens on Bremen's Gnabry as stardom beckons

BERLIN: Bayern Munich didn't take much notice of Serge Gnabry the first time they crossed paths this season.

Bayern was too busy scoring.

It was late August and the opening round of the Bundesliga, and Bayern was beating up Gnabry and his Werder Bremen teammates 6-0 in front of a crowd of 75,000.

Fast forward five months, and Gnabry has become the most exciting young forward in the league, and rumors are rife that big bad Bayern, which visits Bremen on Saturday, has been casting a critical eye on him.

Bremen sporting director Frank Baumann was forced to deny rumors that Bayern or anyone else was involved in Gnabry's transfer from Arsenal for a reported 5 million euros ($5.3 million) in August, and that it has an option to sign him at the end of the season.

Gnabry is signed to 2020, but German tabloid Bild says a clause in Gnabry's contract allows him to leave for 8 million euros, a bargain if he maintains his form from the opening half of the season.

Bayern is playing it cool, for now.

"Of course, we will always observe German national team players, but I don't know whether we'll do something about it," Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said recently.

Bremen has no interest in losing the 21-year-old Gnabry, who has emerged as the side's greatest hope of avoiding the drop.

Gnabry's seven goals and two assists went a long way to ensuring previously bottom Bremen did not spend the league's winter break in the relegation zone. Almost all of his goals were decisive in securing points.

After earning a soccer silver medal at the Olympics, he was summoned by Germany coach Joachim Loew and announced his arrival with a hat trick on debut against San Marino in a World Cup qualifier in November.

Gnabry, the son of an Ivorian father and a German mother, was unable to force his way through at Arsenal after switching from Stuttgart as a teenager, but he has blossomed since returning to Germany.

His strength, athleticism, and knack for scoring at vital times have helped Bremen fans forget about Davie Selke, another highly rated young forward who left for ambitious Leipzig — then in the second division — in 2015.

For now, Gnabry's father has suggested his son is better off staying where he is.

"He has to deliver something first before he takes the next step," Jean-Hermann Gnabry told Bild on Thursday. "My son sees it the same way. Of that I'm certain."