There’s an old saying that suggests “hindsight is 20/20”, and that saying is just as applicable to the world of football as it is anywhere else. While plenty of paragraphs have been devoted to discussing the sport’s top prospects over the years, there’s never a definite guarantee that young stars will become world class players – look at Ravel Morrison or Giovani Dos Santos, for instance.
However, sometimes it feels like even the Premier League’s biggest clubs can’t see the forest for the trees when it comes to some young prospects, and end up letting them go and regretting it hugely at some point down the line.
Here are 5 academy graduates whose original clubs regretted letting go.
#1 Serge Gnabry
Arsenal fans must’ve watched Serge Gnabry destroy the defences of both Tottenham and Chelsea for Bayern Munich in the Champions League this season and wondered “what if?”. The 24-year old German forward has become one of Europe’s most highly rated young stars during the 2019-20 campaign, scoring 17 goals in 30 games thus far for Bayern, 6 of them in the Champions League. Of course, had things been slightly different, Gnabry would be a Gunner right now.
The German international signed with Arsenal at the age of 16 after moving from VfB Stuttgart, and then progressed through the various age group teams at the Emirates before making the jump into the first team in the 2013-14 season. That campaign saw Gnabry show flashes of his talent, scoring 1 goal in 14 appearances, but a serious knee injury derailed him prior to the 2014-15 season.
Upon his return to fitness, the German moved on loan to Premier League strugglers West Bromwich Albion – but his face didn’t fit with boss Tony Pulis, who didn’t see him as ready for top flight football. Gnabry was restricted to just 3 appearances all season, and after he returned to North London, despite Arsene Wenger’s best interests he wished to move home, and signed with Werder Bremen for just £5m.
One season later – after scoring 11 goals in 27 games for the Bundesliga side – he was on his way to Bayern for another small fee, just €8m. And from there, the rest is largely history; after a season-long loan to Hoffenheim, Gnabry has risen from strength to strength at the Allianz Arena, scoring 13 goals in his first season and bettering that total already this time around.
Wenger has since suggested that Gnabry’s tendency to “look for the easy way” meant that he failed at Arsenal, but let’s be honest – the Gunners must regret giving up on him so quickly and easily now.