At the end of the 2013/14 season, had I told you that 18 year old Serge Gnabry would leave Arsenal in 2 seasons for £6million having not played another game, you would have called me an attention seeker.
At the end of the 2010/11 season, had I told you that 18 year old Jack Wilshere would leave on loan at 24 years old with his future career hanging in the balance, you would have called me an attention seeker.
And that is the situation both players find themselves in.
Serge Gnabry was nominated for the 2013 Golden Boy Award. Eventually won by Paul Pogba, it is given to the player playing in Europe perceived to have been the most impressive during a calendar year under the age of 21. Gnabry was just 17 when nominated.
At the end of the 2010/11 season, Jack Wilshere was named PFA Young Player of the Year, an annual award given to the player aged 23 or under at the start of the Premier League season.
Both prestigious talents playing above their age, winning or being nominated for awards alongside players 4 years older. The future was bright for them. The future was bright for Arsenal.
Fast forward to the present day. I am writing this on transfer deadline day (so both deals might have fallen through by the time you read this meaning this blog is pointless), both players look set to leave the club on, at minimum, a temporary basis. Gnabry probably permanent.
So what happened? What went wrong?
Serge Gnabry is a path of bad luck and unfortunate circumstances.
In 2013/14 he looked exceptional. He was being talked about as the future of Germany. A long term replacement for Theo Walcott. Taking into account Walcott’s loss of confidence, form and ability, 2016/17 should have been Gnabry’s year. But it is not.
In what turned out to be his last senior game at Arsenal, Gnabry picked up a serious knee injury.
Arsenal took their time repairing the youngster, and he was not seen again for almost a year, playing for the youth side in the late stages of 2014/15.
The next year he was sent out on loan. The idea was simple. Send him to a Premier League club, he will play 38 games. Be a superstar, and return ready to fight for his place in the team.
Unfortunately he ended up at WBA, playing for Tony Pullis who clearly has an irrational hatred for attacking players (good luck Nacer Chadli). He played 13 Premier League minutes.
Pullis blamed Gnabry. Saying the young winger was unable to adapt to his defensive philosophy and lacked work-rate without the ball. Ignoring the fact that he was dealing with a young Eden Hazard or Lionel Messi, not a Robbie Savage or Lee Catermole. I do wonder why Pullis loaned an attacking player when what he wanted was defensive. Maybe he should have got in a couple of full backs to play on the wing?
So at this point Gnabry had lost 2 years of his career. 2 years of important development. He showed at the Olympics his natural ability. But with 1 year left on his contract, Arsenal were stuck between a rock and a hard place.
Attempt to get him to sign a new 5 year deal, loan him out, risk him not developing, and we are stuck with an average player on a long contract. Or sell him, risk losing a talented youngster, something we might regret later.
Gnabry is still just 21. He has a bright future in the game. Hopefully Arsenal have a buy back clause and a sell on clause in the deal. That one day he might return ala Morata at Real Madrid. Or we might do a Carlos Vela and use the clause to extort more money out of the club we are selling too. I wish him luck.
Jack Wilshere’s situation is well documented and does not need much time spent on it.
I first wrote about his potential downfall and what was maybe the beginning of the end in 2014 when I wrote about Jack Wilshere on his last chance. More recently I put forward the case that his time at Arsenal was coming to an end.
Injury is Jack Wilshere’s main problem. Whether this is caused by playing too much too young, Arsene Wenger rushing him back, a hard training pitch, poor medical staff, dodgy ankles, or holding on to the ball too long causing players to lunge in and catch him, he has had an awful time.
Jack Wilshere has played just 103 Premier League games for Arsenal. Starting just 80. Finishing even less. He is now 24.
The time has come where he needs to prove his fitness. Prove he has the durability to go with his ability.
At Arsenal he does not have the opportunity to do this. He finds himself behind Aaron Ramsey and Santi Cazorla in the pecking order. He needs to show he can play 30 league games. He will get the chance to show this away from Arsenal, not at Arsenal.
What both players highlight is the difficulty in transitioning for players from talented kid to global superstar. It is not easy. And it is not just Arsenal.
Everton’s Ross Barkley has reached a cross roads in his career, dropped by England. Adnan Januzaj has found it tough at Manchester United and now finds himself on loan at Sunderland.
What happened to Andre Wisdom, Martin Kelly & Jon Flanaghan at Liverpool? Jordan Ibe too.
Looking down the list of Golden Boy’s you would say only Lionel Messi, Cesc Fabregas, Sergio Aguero & Paul Pogba fulfilled their potential.
Wayne Rooney, Rafael van der Vaart, Mario Gotze and Isco never really progressed to World Class talents. Anderson, Alexandre Pato & Mario Balotelli did nothing. Sterling and Martial the jury is still out on.
All have their reasons for not making it. Some were not good enough. Others got fat. Some lazy. Believing their own hype. Others took a bad move. One shagged a granny. Being a Golden Boy does not mean you will have a golden career.
The situation that Jack Wilshere and Serge Gnabry find themselves in should be a lesson to every fan who gets over excited when a youngster comes through. Give them the chance to develop at their own pace. Don’t idolise them before they have achieved something. And back them. Don’t get in their backs.