Samir Nasri: Where did it all go wrong for the 'next Zidane'?
Young, talented and good looking, there was a time when the possibilities seemed boundless for Samir Nasri. Yet, the playmaker who used to regularly be sent underwears from his female fans through the post has been sent packing by Manchester City to Turkish outfit Antalyaspor.
Pep Guardiola’s men were content to make a £25 million loss on a player who has only just turned 30 yet who now finds himself at a club with a hotchpotch of castoffs, such as Jeremy Menez and Johan Djourou, not to mention a 36-year-old Samuel Eto’o.
Indeed, the Turkish side have paid absolutely nothing for the player up front – his entire fee comes in the form of performance-related bonus payments.
It was with hometown club Marseille where he first broke through, playing over 120 matches in four years for OM before moving on to Arsenal for £12m when still a teenager.
“He could do everything with the ball: stepovers, dribbling, shooting with the right or the left. In fact, I wasn't even sure whether he was left or right-footed,” said Freddy Assolen, the Marseille scout who discovered the youngster through word of mouth as a nine-year-old.
From the outset, the confident youngster had no problems settling in to the rigours of first-team football, so it was a little surprise to see him move on quickly to England, with Arsenal a natural home given Arsene Wenger’s reputation for nurturing young talents, and particularly those from his homeland.
By 2010, he had been named French Footballer of the Year and the following season he enjoyed stellar success at the Emirates, netting 10 goals in total.
“This is the gift of Arsene Wenger. He convinces players they can do better and better. Arsene made him believe he could score more goals, to get more involved in attacks and to provide more assists,” former Arsenal midfielder Gilles Grimandi told the BBC.
But Nasri was to turn his back on this gift, departing due to what Wenger described at the time as “psychological and financial reasons”.
He was never again to attain the heights he mustered during that 2010-11 season.
“I can’t understand why sometimes a player with his quality doesn’t play like this every game,” City boss Roberto Mancini lamented after Nasri starred in a 4-0 win over Newcastle in 2013. “I’d like to give him a punch because a player like him should play like this all the time - always, in every game. Maybe one game he can’t play well, but that’s it.”
Nasri’s problem has, first and foremost, been himself.
Issues started to arise as early as 2008, when he was involved in an incident on the France team coach at the European Championship in which he reportedly snatched the seat of senior player Thierry Henry. He was, along with several other younger members of the squad, accused of being insolent.
Perhaps this lack of maturity was understandable at such a young age, especially having been dubbed the 'new Zidane'. He had grown up being heralded as a hero in his football-crazy hometown of Marseille, where he was known by everyone by the time he was 11 or 12 due to his innate talents. It proved, however, to be one of the crucial facets that prevented him from elevating his level to a true great.
He missed out on World Cup 2010, despite his fine form. “Maybe it was for the best in the end, and not just because France had a horrible World Cup. It helped me as a person. I told myself I need to work harder, to make sure I don't miss the next one,” he said.
But Nasri did miss the next one and similar accusations over his personality have been cited as one of the foremost reasons why City were so keen to offload him to Sevilla on loan last season and happy to have him taken definitively from their hands this summer.
Now he is nowhere on the international scene, usurped by upstarts like Ousmane Dembele and Kylian Mbappe, who hog the headlines in the domestic press. Nasri’s move to Turkey was greeted with little more than a disinterested shrug of the shoulders.
And it is a great shame that his career is set to finish in this way.
“You might think every player loves football but not like this. Samir is a student of football - he lives for the game. He loves training and watches game after game on TV,” Grimandi said back in 2011.
That still holds true, as can be seen from the intelligent manner he moves around the field when on song, bringing others into the game in a manner that simply does not equate to his demanding off-field personal.
Indeed, there is some sweet irony that a man who could have been one of the greatest team players of the decade has found his Achilles heel to be failing to be a team player away from the field.