Samir Nasri’s career outside of France has been reminisicent of an emotional roller coaster. Yet, over the past 12-18 months, the Frenchman has also endured negativity in his homeland. The scene was familiar to Nasri. It was happening again.
Nasri, arguably the most vilified footballer on the planet, was held responsible for France’s 1st leg World Cup playoff loss to Ukraine, in Kiev. The media was unimpressed with Les Bleus’ performance, and they shared their disgust in French newspaper L’Equipe. Whilst the French paper referred to the display as ‘the worst ever’, a nightmare, and a black evening to forget, the player rating the Manchester City midfielder received was mind-blowing.
A team low three out of ten – shared with Eric Abidal and Laurent Koscielny – was harshly awarded to Nasri, and it led to his inclusion on the bench in the return leg. Nasri’s role as France’s main creator behind the attacking three was peculiar – specifically because the nifty Mathieu Valbuena was left on the bench. Nasri could’ve had a significant impact on the right flank – Loic Remy was anonymous, and Nasri’s presence would provide natural balance, thus handing Valbuena the freedom to link play in the final third.
Nasri found himself in deeper positions – the Frenchman drifted yards away from Paul Pogba and Blaise Matuidi to receive the ball and help France push forward as a unit. More so, when he did get into positions near Olivier Giroud, Nasri played clever incisive passes in the final third. The Frenchman received a great chance to equalize late in the second half, but Andriy Pyatov comfortably saved his tame effort. Simply, it wasn’t his night.
Relatedly, Nasri is accustomed to hostile reception and criticism. His devilish smile, quirky hairstyle and individualistic aspirations have tarnished his once admired demeanour. Equally, he’s a player that’s easy to despise – some would go as far as saying he’s a player you’d want to punch, but this doesn’t faze the 27-year-old midfielder. Pressure and heavy criticism was a formality growing up in Marseille. Nasri stated that the city would mourn a Marseille loss, and frequent visits from the director of football, and president of the club were normal.
The former Marseille ball boy also had to deal with comparisons to Zinedine Zidane during his youth career. “It drove me mad. When you’re 17 years old, you don’t play well every week. You can imagine what it was like to be compared to the best player the world has seen in recent years, “ Nasri said in an interview with FourFourTwo Magazine.
However, there’s been a significant change in Nasri’s game. In the past, an international disappointment of this stature would hamper the Frenchman’s overall game, but the atmosphere around the blue side of Manchester is different. Nasri’s enjoying one of the better seasons in his career, and the contrast in performances compared to last season is evident.
Nasri labeled last season the worst of his career. The Frenchman never fully recovered from the controversy that occurred at Euro 2012 – mentally, and emotionally he was in a dark place. “In my head I wasn’t the same. I didn’t play well for City and lost my spot in the squad and at the end of the year, you look at your season and you realize I was not myself,” Nasri said.
The Frenchman couldn’t stay out of the media, and they heavily scrutinized his poor performances and lack of interest on the field. Likewise, former City manager Roberto Mancini’s comments weren’t beneficial to Nasri’s form.
In the past the Italian manager publicly questioned Nasri’s work ethic and stated his desire to punch the Manchester City midfielder – simply because of his inconsistent form – which left the Frenchman displeased. “Managers have different ways of working, some like to say things in the press to make players react and some like to say things face to face with the player. Some players see things in the press, it touches their ego and they react,” Nasri said.
Nevertheless, Manchester City has looked a rejuvenated side this season – albeit they still struggle to obtain maximum points on the road. But their results at home and in Europe have improved vastly, and Nasri’s inclusion in the squad is a significant factor. His form, swagger and confidence are back. The Frenchman’s nonchalant movement around the final third, along with Jesus Navas’ wide positioning has provided balance in the City attack.
The flair and trickery of the past bewilders defenders, his forward runs into the box are being translated into goals, and his precise, incisive final balls have created several top-class goals. Both of Nasri’s goals for City this season were in blowouts at home against Newcastle and Manchester United. The Frenchman reacted quicker than Davide Santon, and pounced on a loose ball, which sent him free on goal, and he fired his shot past Tim Krul. Whereas against United, he made a 60+ yard run, slyly drifted towards the back post and side-footed an exceptional Navas cross past David De Gea.
Equally, Nasri’s passing has been proficient this season. He tends to drift into central positions to help City sustain possession, but also to create a numerical advantage in midfield. This season alone he’s provided two magnificent final passes to Sergio Aguero that allowed the Argentine to showcase his prolific finishing. Also, as good as Nasri is going forward, the Frenchman doesn’t ignore his defensive duties, and has provided remarkable cover for his fullbacks, when needed.
Statistically, Nasri has been impressive. According to whoscored.com, the Frenchman currently maintains a 90% passing rate – in both the Premier League and Champions League – and completes 2.3 key passes per game domestically. Only Angel Di Maria has recorded more assists than Nasri’s four in the Champions League, while his 3.2 key passes per game is only bettered by Nico Gaitan, Juan Mata and Franck Ribery.
Nasri’s revival at Manchester City has been positive, and the Frenchman believes Manuel Pellegrini has played an integral role under his return to prominence. “What is different between him and the other manager is he is really present in the training. He stops it when something is wrong and that is interesting for us because he wants us to play with principles and to understand,” Nasri said.
The Frenchman has highlighted a similarity between Pellegrini and his former manager Arsene Wenger’s work ethic and man-management skills. “He [Pellegrini] is someone who talks with the players and it is good for the players to know exactly what he is doing right or wrong. What I like about him is he also talks about everything outside football, to know how you are in your life and it is pretty important for a manager to know these things,” Nasri said.
Nonetheless, Nasri is a player that relies on support and guidance from his manager. The Frenchman arguably spent the best moments of his career – thus far – at Arsenal, and he looks capable of surpassing that level at the moment. “I suppose the best Nasri will come in the future – he has a lot more where he can improve,” Pellegrini said.
Those words indicate belief in Nasri, but it also demands improvement. Nasri is enjoying the best moments of his domestic career since leaving the Emirates in 2011, and has become an integral piece to City’s title contending puzzle. The skill, talent, experience and work rate were always present, but Pellegrini is looking to add one more element to Nasri’s game that will merit him as a top-class player.