x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Samir Nasri's Gallic flair yet to light up City

Ahead of tonight's match against West Brom, Ian Hawkey looks at the Frenchman's failure to spark since leaving Arsenal.

Samir Nasri has scored just four goals for Manchester City since his move from Arsenal last summer. Jon Super / AP Photo
Samir Nasri has scored just four goals for Manchester City since his move from Arsenal last summer. Jon Super / AP Photo

Samir Nasri had anticipated the sort of reception he would be given at Arsenal. With each touch of the ball last Sunday, the Manchester City midfield player was booed and whistled. When he was substituted, some 12 minutes from full time, chants of "What a waste of money" accompanied him from the pitch which he used to call his own.

Nasri was probably lucky not to be on the field at the end of Arsenal's 1-0 win over City. It had been 0-0 when he departed. City appeared to have lost any realistic hope of seizing the Premier League title. From the moment Mikel Arteta converted the late goal, many of Nasri's thoughts and public statements of eight months ago were rebounding around the Emirates Stadium.

Arteta was one the players bought by Arsenal to compensate for the loss, last summer, of Nasri and Cesc Fabregas, both of whom had moved on to satisfy their ambitions.

At the time, it was not unreasonable for him to suppose he would have a better crack at trophies in Manchester.

As City begin to list the reasons why a very promising pursuit of the English title has turned limp, there are names higher up the list of disappointments than Nasri. But an assessment of Nasri's impact in his first year will inevitably be mixed.

He has not assumed the sort of consistent, galvanising role that might have been expected of him. A tally of four goals and seven decisive passes for the campaign is under par. In his final season at Arsenal, Nasri struck 10 league goals.

Nasri, 24, has been carrying high expectations, sometimes meeting them, sometimes frustrating his coaches, for almost a decade.

He was a prodigy within French football, a member of a celebrated squad who won the 2004 European Under 17 national title when he emerged at Olympique Marseille.

He was considered unusually self-confident, remembers Philippe Troussier, the coach who first established Nasri as a starter in the Marseille team.

"About two months after I arrived at Marseille, in late 2004, he was becoming one of the most important players and in the dressing-room there was an attitude that he shouldn't think of himself like that," said Troussier.

"There were labels in the press about 'The New Zidane'. In fact, Samir managed the situation very well, in a mature way. He was good like that, and has always had a supportive, close family. When you rise so fast, that's important."

Troussier recalls clearly how thrillingly precocious the teenaged Nasri could look.

"A couple of weeks before I started at OM, I had seen him come on a substitute and I thought 'This a very, very skilful player'.

"He became the focus of my team very quickly. When there was this atmosphere in the dressing room around him later, I spoke to all the players. I didn't want him affected, because if he had become shy, there was a danger he would play differently, take less risks, take different decisions on the ball, not go past opponents in the way he can."

Nasri scored his first goal for Les Bleus at age 19, in his first full 90 minutes for his country. Soon after his 21st birthday, he had joined Arsenal.

"I had some doubts about him succeeding in English football," said Troussier. "But I was mistaken. I thought that against all the big fighters in the English league he might have problems physically. In fact, his technique works for him there."

At Arsenal, his manager Arsene Wenger tried him in different midfield positions, wide and deep, and came to value his set-piece delivery. He became physically more imposing, too. His international career, though, stalled. In France, a bumptious image attached itself to him. Jean-Pierre Paclet, the former doctor of the France national squad, was among those unimpressed: "Here was a kid with a dozen caps looking down on players with 100. He really annoyed Thierry Henry, William Gallas and Patrice Evra."

When Nasri was left out of the 2010 World Cup finals squad it was assumed the France coach of the time, Raymond Domenech, had made the decision mindful of possible schisms. As it turned out, it was a good tournament to miss.

Being absent from France's embarrassing display in South Africa seemed to make Nasri more appreciated. Laurent Blanc, the new coach, has selected him consistently and in 2010, his compatriot professionals elected him French Footballer of the Year.

But Blanc, like City, would like more from his gifted playmaker. "How many goals has he scored for France?" Blanc recently asked, challenging Nasri. The answer is only two in 26 games since that debut strike.

Nasri has plenty of time to improve that record, and several seasons to become a recognised great in the England's top flight, a status he has not quite gained yet in a Manchester City jersey.


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