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From Little Zidane to obscurity: The meteoric rise and abrupt fall of Samir Nasri

  • Samir Nasri never fully fulfilled his potential.
Modified 01 Apr 2020, 17:29 IST

Manchester City v Sunderland - Capital One Final
Manchester City v Sunderland - Capital One Final

Wembley Stadium: The League Cup Final, 2nd of March 2014. Eighty-four thousand fans watched with bated breath as Aleksandar Kolarov’s cross deflected off a Sunderland defender and made its way to the onrushing Samir Nasri. Seconds later, the blue half of Wembley was in delirium.

The outside of Nasri’s boot had firmly planted the ball beyond a hapless Vito Mannone in goal. After a Yaya Toure classic had contributed the equalizer for Manchester City, the Frenchman’s goal added to the tally and brought about a lead for the Men in Blue. Jesus Navas scored again in the dying embers of the game to pile the misery on the Black Cats.

After Fabio Borini’s opener and despite Toure’s equalizer, the Black Cats’ supporters still believed that they could conjure a ‘Wigan’ and pull off an upset. However, a certain 27-year-old Frenchman had other ideas. Awarded the Man of the Match for his efforts, the career graph of Samir Nasri hit an all-time high. At the peak of his powers under the guidance of Chilean Manuel Pellegrini, Nasri along with Toure and ‘El Mago’ David Silva constituted a deadly trio who fired Manchester City to the Premier League and League Cup double.

Over a further span of 5 years, City have added a plethora of trophies to their cabinet. An upturn in fortunes for the Manchester club has seen them dominate domestically with David Silva and Sergio Aguero playing starring roles in the quest for total supremacy.

On the contrary, the same timeframe has seen Nasri’s career careen wildly out of control. From a two-time Premier League champion to free agent, the Frenchman has been on one wild ride ever since the glory days of 2014. Where did it all go wrong for the man tipped to preside over Zinedine Zidane’s throne?

The inception of Little Zidane

Nasri’s footballing career began with him playing for local youth clubs in his hometown of Marseille. Word of his proficiency on the ball had made its way to the Olympique de Marseille boardroom who wasted no time in snapping up the then nine-year-old.

Sublime performances for the academy saw him promoted to the senior squad at just 17 years of age. The Frenchman grabbed the opportunity by the scruff of its neck and dovetailed beautifully with another French national in Franck Ribery.

Marseille v Besiktas - UEFA Champions League
Marseille v Besiktas - UEFA Champions League

Arsene Wenger, like many other managers at that time, sent scouts to track the progress of the French prodigy. In the summer of 2008, 'Monsieur' Wenger left his competitors behind by adding Nasri’s name to the Arsenal roster for an estimated £11 million with the talented midfielder expected to be a direct replacement for Alexander Hleb, who departed the North London club for pastures anew. Technically smart and sharp in possession, Nasri promptly became one of the first names on the French manager's team sheet. A steady amount of goals and assists soon followed and Nasri began repaying Wenger’s trust in him.

The 2010/11 Premier League season saw Nasri announce himself to the world with explosive performances in midfield alongside the likes of Cesc Fabregas, Jack Wilshere, and Tomas Rosicky. Their combined form allowed Arsenal to sporadically mount a title challenge with Nasri at the thick of the action.

A sleek and elegant midfielder, he sliced through defences like a knife through butter. His playing style was reminiscent of French legend Zidane which earned him the nickname ‘Little Zidane’. Working in tandem with yet another pass master in Fabregas, he plundered 15 goals in what would turn out to be his most successful and final season in an Arsenal shirt.

Nasri and Fabregas formed a deadly duo at Arsenal
Nasri and Fabregas formed a deadly duo at Arsenal

It is not often that a player manages to steal the limelight when his teammate manages to score a hattrick. In a Champions League matchup against Porto, Nasri hogged the headlines the day after despite Nicklas Bendtner notching up a trio of goals against the Portuguese side.

Holding on to the ball on the right flank, Nasri waltzed past three opponents as though they were made of thin air. Feinting one way then the other, he motored through the Porto defence with the backline left bewildered as he thumped the ball past the goalkeeper. A Samir Nasri in full flow was a sight to behold. Witness the magic for yourselves:

The beginning of the end

Talent and it alone is not enough to mould a successful footballer. Had that been the case, Nasri’s stock wouldn’t have dropped so much over such a short span. Hard work along with the right attitude are also vital cogs in the machine that runs a football star.

The Frenchman has been known to be highly inflammable and arrogant in character. It is saddening indeed to see such a precociously gifted player’s career go down the drain due to temperamental issues.

It was after signing for Manchester City at the end of the 2010/11 season did the midfielder’s career take a turn for the worse. Monetary benefits were reported to have played a major role in his transfer to the Midlands. He blew hot and cold during his time at City. His former coach Roberto Mancini expressed his frustrations at the player’s inconsistencies and even as far as stating that he wanted to ‘punch’ him. His transfer to City also made him a much-hated figure in north London.

Despite his innate talents, Nasri was often overlooked by the French national side due to his behaviour. His fight with Thierry Henry over a seat on the bus sparked a major controversy in his native France. Regarded as a disruptive presence, Nasri was omitted from the 2014 World Cup squad which prompted him to retire from international footbll at the age of 27.

The 2013/14 season was a compilation of some of the top-notch performances that Nasri put in a sky-blue shirt. The forthcoming seasons saw Nasri blighted by injuries and by 2016, with Guardiola’s arrival, he was completely frozen out of the first-team picture.

He put forth a revival of sorts during his loan spell at Sevilla but even that did not last long. His brash and fiery inclinations came to the fore when he was sent off in a Champions League round-of-16 tie against Leicester City after appearing to butt heads with English striker Jamie Vardy.

Nasri doing his best Zidane impression
Nasri doing his best Zidane impression

The life of Samir Nasri hit an all-time low when he was handed a lengthy doping ban in 2017 following his use of prohibited substances. Despite signing for West Ham at the end of the ban in January 2019, he had no significant impact with injuries eating into a major chunk of his playing time.

West Ham United v Arsenal FC - Premier League
West Ham United v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Now a free agent after being released, the footballing career of Nasri is dying a slow death. He burned a lot of bridges upon his move from Arsenal and the transfer can easily be singled out as the reason why the rough diamond turned out to be nothing more than an ordinary crystal.

Now 32 and with the likelihood of signing for a European superpower seeming bleak, Nasri joins the list of talented youngsters who faded early due to their personality. Being involved through and through is necessary for success in any aspect of life. Talent will only take one so far. Hard work, commitment, and respect are indispensable components of the machine that is life. 

Published 03 Jul 2019, 12:54 IST
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