How Gross loves proving the doubters wrong

As he prepares to make his major tournament debut in the Euros, a look at how Pascal developed in Germany and became an Albion legend.

By Richie Mills • 14 June 2024

By Philipp Reinhard
Pascal Gross trains with the German squad ahead of their Euros 2024 opener against Scotland on Friday.

“I always had the feeling that I was underestimated because people always said that I was physically too weak or that I didn't have enough speed. But that never bothered me, in a way it was an incentive. I achieved a lot through my will and ambition because it ultimately depends on skills like mental speed, technical execution, being able to use both feet, and so on.”

Pascal Gross said those words to German publication in December 2019, when he was thriving in the Premier League and proving the doubters wrong.

For Albion fans, these words fly in the face of what he has achieved at the Amex. The club’s record scorer in the Premier League, 45 assists at that level, 261 appearances, and now legendary status – all for the relatively small sum of £3 million paid to former club FC Ingolstadt back in 2017. So where does this underestimation come from?

Pascal grew up in Mannheim, Germany, and developed a love of football thanks to his father Stephan - nicknamed Steps - who played in the Bundesliga for Karlsruher SC more than 40 years ago.

"He [his father] was an excellent coach for me, as a footballer but also as a human. All the stuff, how to behave, the discipline, how to work, also how to behave in social life I learnt from him, so I really have to say thank you," he said.

His father's coaching led him to VfL Neckarau, and it was here a young Pascal began to get noticed.  

By Terence Träber
Pascal Gross, second from the left in the front row, playing in an invitational match aged 14.

Together, he and teammate Manuel Gulde, now at Freiburg, were selected for Germany's under-15 side off the back of their outstanding displays for this lower-division team.
Terence Traber, Hoffenheim's academy press officer for 15 years, said: “It was very unusual for Germany's U15s to have two players from an unknown club. When I first met Pascal he wasn't shy at all, more confident in his own ability; but he was just a regular, hard-working guy. That is when Hoffenheim came in for him.”

After joining Hoffenheim's academy in 2007, the midfielder went on to win the German U17 Championship, where he scored in a 6-4 win over Borussia Dortmund, and the German Cup at U19 level.

By Hoffenheim FC
Pascal Gross, aged 16, at Hoffenheim in 2007

Shortly before he turned 18, Pascal was handed his Bundesliga debut in May 2009 but that was as good as it got for him at Die Kraichgauer.

Bundesliga commentator James Thorogood said: “Gross arrived in Hoffenheim at a time when they were in the final phase of their rise to the Bundesliga. Acquiring and developing local talents was and remains one of the club’s core principles.

“Gross fit the bill and while he only made a handful of cameo appearances for the senior side he received a strong footballing education at a club who were embracing more modern approaches and practices than other sides in Germany.

“Always a talented chance creator from open play or set pieces, Gross was perhaps a victim of shifting priorities in German football in his younger years when fleet-footed, futsal players were lauded above all others.”

Following a handful of appearances for Hoffenheim, he left for fellow Bundesliga side Karlsruher SC in early 2011 and while he got valuable experience in the German top-flight it was at Ingolstadt where he found his feet, particularly under the stewardship of then-manager Ralph Hasenhuttl.

Between 2013-2016 the former Southampton boss took Ingolstadt from the bottom of 2.Bundesliga to a mid-table finish in the Bundesliga with Gross his master conductor. In their 2015 promotion season the midfielder scored seven goals and contributed 23 assists.

In 2020, Hasenhuttl said: “When he [Gross] was in the second [German] league with me nobody would think he could do this, but he is a role model of what you can reach if you really want to. He is mentally a really strong player. I liked to work with him, we had a very successful time together, and sometimes I think back and enjoy what we did there.”

Gross was unable to keep Ingolstadt in the Bundesliga in 2017 despite registering five goals and six assists, but his form attracted the attention of Brighton and the rest is history.

From keeping Albion in the Premier League to helping them into Europe for the first time in the club's history. From not getting a game at Hoffenheim to finally achieving a lifelong dream and earning his first caps for Germany; with a Euro 2024 call-up to boot and the chance of appearing in Munich tonight when the hosts take on Scotland in the tournament’s opening game.

To those who underestimated him earlier on in his career, who is doubting him now?

“In Germany, we have a saying. 'Afterwards, everybody is more intelligent'. But he is still the player he has always been. A great team player, with a great vision of the game. He’s gained a lot of experience playing in the best league in the world," added Traber.

“He is a very versatile player. Not a superstar where every kid wants to wear his shirt but every coach in the world would be happy to have a player like him.

“Nowadays, young players are always more interesting than older ones. But the fact that he is still getting Germany caps as he nears 33 (his birthday is on Saturday) says everything about Pascal Gross. We are all very proud of him.”