Samir Nasri: A footballer unwanted by both club and country
- Once dubbed the 'next Zidane', Nasri finds himself in a situation no player with his skills ought to be in
“Nasri is like a player from a different era. He has that amateur’s spirit where you want to enjoy the game.” - Jorge Sampaoli
That's not exactly how anyone would characterize Samir Nasri anymore. Given a chance, Sampaoli may even want to take back those words, after the French midfielder lost his way during a loan spell at Sevilla despite looking like he was set to revive his career.
It all seemed to be going well last season. Of course, Sevilla is the perfect place for a player to receive a second chance; there's something about the atmosphere at the club that brings out the best in players who are looking to find themselves.
Monchi, the club's former director of football, played a huge role in that transformation. "A player is a person and a footballer," he said. "We try to make the person feel good so that the football can appear."
That's exactly what happened with Manchester City outcast Nasri. Instead of playing on the wings, he was predominantly deployed in central midfield as a pivot alongside Steven N'Zonzi; almost like a deep-lying playmaker, linking the defence and attack by collecting the ball and bringing it forward.
But a red card in the Champions League Round of 16 against Leicester City seemed to break his resolve. It wasn't entirely his fault but the aftermath certainly was. After that night - where he sulked in a corner of the King Power Stadium, watching his team get knocked out of Europe - he hardly played for Los Nervionenses.
The boy who would be the next Zidane
Nasri has been dubbed many different things ever since he started kicking a football as a kid in France. It's a spectrum that ranges from the 'next Zinedine Zidane' to 'traitor' to 'mercenary' - depending on which part of his career you look at.
There were constant comparisons with Zidane as he was growing up. The similarities at that age were uncanny - not just in his skills as a footballer but also his cultural heritage. Nasri's parents, too, were of Algerian descent.
There was no doubting his talent. Just his temperament.
Gone are the days when a young Nasri weaved magic with the ball at his feet - dropping a shoulder to evade a defender, a ballet dancer on the grass with the touch of an angel running circles around defenders who could never predict his next move.
When Nasri had the ball and moved forward with purpose, the crowd would get up on their feet in anticipation. The physicality of the Premier League that has felled so many technically superior players in the past did not bother the 5'9" midfielder as he caressed the ball into the tiniest of spaces, darting in the opposite direction a split second later as the defender put one foot wrong.
All the while with his mouth hanging open - as if he was astonished by his own skill. It was an expression often mirrored by those watching him when he was on the ball.
Discovered by a Marseille scout and coveted by AC Milan, Nasri displayed all the characteristics of an attacking footballer. "I wasn't even sure whether he was left or right-footed," said Freddy Assolen, the man who brought him to Marseille. Nasri could do just about everything with either foot - all at the mere age of nine.
He came through the ranks alongside other future stars such as Karim Benzema and Hatem Ben Arfa. He scored the winner in the 2004 U-17 Euros, beating Spain which had the likes of Gerard Pique and his future Arsenal teammate Cesc Fabregas.
The potential in him was immense and Arsene Wenger saw it too, prompting Arsenal to spend £12m on him. Nasri would go on to become a mainstay in the Gunners attack out on the left even though he was right-footed, picking up where the tenacious Alexander Hleb left off; drifting in whenever he had the opportunity to score or link up with others.
Again the comparisons were made with Robert Pires and again Nasri brushed them aside. "The fact these comparisons are made, it makes it very difficult and puts lots of pressure on me."
Nasri had everything going for him as he saw a meteoric rise under the tutelage of Wenger. Arsenal struggled to challenge for trophies but Nasri impressed.
His final season in a the red-and-white shirt was the turning point of his career. The 15 goals he scored that season (10 in the league) was supposed to be a sign of things to come.
He never scored as many in a single campaign again.
The move to Manchester City may have allowed him to win two Premier League titles but he was no longer one of the key players but the supporting cast.
At Arsenal he was a star in the making. At City, he was part of the supporting cast. But see if he cares, standing vindicated by the two Premier League winners medals that adorn his neck.
As for his relationship with Arsenal fans? He couldn't give a damn anymore.
"They see it as treason or that I betrayed them but it’s not like that. I just look what’s best for me. For the fans the only reason [to leave] has to be for the money. But it isn’t just for the money." - Nasri
In his own words, he was "not an Arsenal fan" to pledge eternal undying allegiance to the north London club. He was simply a professional footballer - far removed from any sense of loyalty, looking out only for his best interests and that of his career.
He saw the chance to win trophies, earn a few more quid and he took it with both hands. Fair play.
And yet, here we are after six seasons. A player who has now become the epitome of unfulfilled potential. Those moments of magic are few and far between. The comparisons with Zidane are now nothing more than a fading memory.
"Samir is a player who has incredible qualities but a productivity that bears no comparison with his talent. He didn’t understand that you always have to give your best." - Roberto Mancini
Nasri was a player who would sparkle in the first half before disappearing in the second. He could light up the pitch one weekend and be completely anonymous the next.
Mancini once said he "wanted to punch him" for failing to live up to his potential when he was so much more gifted than the rest of the squad. Guardiola said his quality was "another level".
But his skills and contributions are no longer what define him. He is now infamous for his petulance and arrogance.
You can't say that nobody saw it coming. One should have learned when he was first frozen out of the France squad following his well-publicised altercations with his teammates and the media.
When Nasri once took Thierry Henry's seat on the France team bus, they had an argument over where he should sit but that was quickly settled. However, William Gallas took it upon himself to revisit that incident in his autobiography, claiming that the young brats in the squad was one of the main reasons why France suffered at Euro 2008.
Gallas lost the captain's armband at Arsenal as a result and he was soon packed off when Nasri refused to acknowledge him for over a year. The fractured relationship even spilt over into the national team.
But the end of Nasri's international career came when he verbally abused a journalist following a 2-0 loss to Spain at Euro 2012.
When he accused a journalist of writing "nothing but s**t" in their papers, the journalist had first politely interrupted to tell him that an older article had praised him before asking Nasri to "get lost" as the French midfielder continued his diatribe against the media.
That was when Nasri completely lost it.
"Go f*** yourself, go f*** your mother, you son of a bitch! You want us to have it out, go f*** yourself. There, like that you can now write that I am badly brought up!"
Nasri ended up receiving a three-match ban by the French Football Federation. And a couple of years later, he wasn't named in the 2014 World Cup squad by Didier Deschamps.
He had already missed out the World Cup in 2010 and this was another cruel blow that he took hard (as did his girlfriend who took to Twitter to say, "F*** France and f*** Deschamps! What a shit manager.")
After making 41 appearances for the national team, Nasri retired from international football at just 27. "As long as he is going to be the manager I don’t think I have a shot after everything that has happened."
Deschamps remains France's manager to this day but Nasri no longer has that excuse going for him. Les Bleus have enough depth to name a 30-man squad and Nasri still wouldn't get a call-up.
What next for Nasri?
With an abundance of attacking talent at Manchester City, there is clearly no place for Nasri at the Etihad anymore. Guardiola's business in the transfer market has seen to that.
Left wing? Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane would always get the nod ahead of him. Midfield? David Silva and the newly-acquired Bernardo Silva will bench Nasri any day of the week.
And now that he is back with City - away from the reinvigorating and reassuring environs of Sevilla's Ramón Sánchez Pizjuán Stadium - he is back to his old surly self.
A return to the squad saw the players reportedly protest his inclusion in the pre-season tour.
"Some of the players don't understand why Nasri is even here," said a source from the club, according to The Telegraph. "He has an arrogant attitude and doesn't appear to care.
"He knows he will be leaving and he's turning out to be someone who shouldn't be on the trip. The club can't wait to get rid of him."
But finding suitors for an unwanted 30-year-old player that earns £170,000 a week is no easy task - especially if he is found guilty of doping.
Sevilla have been considered as an option with a permanent switch in mind but Nasri's reported wage demands would create an uproar in the dressing room of the Andalusian club.
Besides, the two men who did get the best out of him - Sampaoli and Monchi - have moved on to the Argentine national team and AS Roma respectively.
If Monchi wants to take a punt at him again, Roma could be a possible destination but it is highly unlikely if they are looking at a replacement winger following Mohamed Salah's sale to Liverpool.
With only two productive seasons under his belt at City before injuries and his own bloated ego ruined his career graph, Nasri now finds himself in a position where nobody wants him.
As a young 19-year-old, Nasri once admitted that he was working on improving his consistency over 90 minutes and from game to game.
He never did. And it has seen his career stall and take a nosedive.
The only question is whether he will now get one last chance to make things right again before his club career also meets a premature end like his international career.Published 26 Jul 2017, 14:54 IST