Neil Humphreys: Serge Gnabry ready to rule Germany
Rising forward must lead from the front
For their upcoming games, Germany have the ideal candidate to prove their doubters wrong.
Serge Gnabry has built his career on proving people wrong.
He started with his own father. At the age of 10, the German insisted he was ready to excel at an elite club like Bayern Munich. His father disagreed, refusing to let the kid join the academy.
Gnabry did eventually excel at Bayern. He just needed 14 years to make it happen.
Just as he needed four goals against Tottenham Hotspur to prove Arsenal wrong.
The Gunners sold their young forward, giving up on Gnabry after four years of trying to make him fit into an English Premier League club.
He wasn't sufficiently equipped to deal with the cliched rigours of EPL football, apparently. All that blood and guts were too much for his delicate stomach.
So he returned to England last week, in a Bayern jersey, to knock four stunning goals past Spurs in the Champions League.
Gnabry humiliated one half of north London and embarrassed the other, while reminding English football of its insularity.
EPL blowhards can sound like Frank Sinatra crooning about New York in their evangelising of all things English. If footballers can make it in the EPL, they can make it anywhere.
Conversely, if they can't make it in the EPL, they can't make it anywhere else.
Gnabry made a glorious mockery of such jingoistic nonsense. The man once considered not competent enough for Tony Pulis' West Bromwich Albion - he played 12 minutes during a loan spell - has morphed into Bayern's dependable goal source.
The 24-year-old has five goals and four assists in nine appearances this season, thriving in his leading-man role after years of being considered a bit-part player.
Early on, his developing talent and unshakeable temperament were either misread or misjudged. His father, Arsenal, the EPL and even poor Pulis all failed to recognise what now seems self-evident.
Gnabry flourished almost in spite of key coaches underestimating his potential at key stages of his career.
He's nurtured the admirable habit of proving detractors wrong, a quality that should serve him well for Germany in the upcoming games against Argentina (a friendly) and Estonia (a Euro 2020 qualifier).
The Germans are past masters of not being overly impressed with the abundance of talent before them. At the 2014 World Cup, coach Joachim Loew was perennially one game from being sacked, right up until the moment he lifted the trophy.
Since the disastrous 2018 World Cup, when the holders went out at the group stage, cynicism has reigned once more.
Loew's decision to jettison household names has been met with customary German scepticism.
Loew must feel like he lives in a nation of Alan Hansens, forever being told that he'll win nothing with kids (despite achieving considerable success with youthful squads).
Still, Germany's coach has backed the likes of Gnabry, insisting that the relatively inexperienced forward will take centre stage in upcoming fixtures.
Once again, Gnabry finds himself in the unenviable position of needing to contradict the naysayers.
He's managed only 10 appearances since making his international debut three years ago, but scored nine goals along the way as his meteoric rise at Bayern began to mirror itself with Germany.
Gnabry's style of play is refreshingly old school in its simplicity, which makes his career knockbacks all the more mystifying. His goals against Spurs encapsulated his straightforward strengths.
He runs past people. Quickly. He keeps the ball close. His shots find the corners. It's not rocket science. It's wing play in its purest form, flawlessly executed.
He evokes memories of a young Gareth Bale, Cristiano Ronaldo or even former club-mates Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery, who partially explain why his career stalled a little.
Until last season, Robben and Ribery were Bayern's chief wing wizards. Gnabry still managed 10 goals in 30 Bundesliga appearances, but he remained in the shadow of the talismanic veterans.
Now that they are gone, he's revelling in the added responsibilities, leading the line for his club and eager to do the same for his country.
At Bayern, Gnabry demonstrates the elephantine ego of the committed forward. He craves the spotlight and doesn't particularly want to share.
With Thomas Mueller and Mesut Oezil out of the way at international level, he wants to dominate Die Mannschaft, too.
The German public may still need convincing. But Gnabry has a fair bit of experience when it comes to proving people wrong.