Robin van Persie adjusts his sniper scope, carefully lining up his laser sight left foot with the back of the net. Rooney scuttles sideways, luring Tevez away from the defensive barricade being assembled by Joe Hart. Meanwhile Samir Nasri is climbing into the back pocket of Edin Dzeko, seemingly eager to avoid the spoils of a war he cares little about.
The result is somewhat inevitable. The wall crumbles in the wake of the Frenchman’s cowardice and his nonchalant flick of the leg not only fails to block the incoming shot, but also inadvertently sends the ball beyond the flailing reach of England’s number one. The gutless actions of one man have decided the outcome of perhaps the most important Premier League fixture this season.
But what has happened to Samir Nasri? Did Roberto Mancini foresee such a decline? Only a fortnight ago he outlined his desire to see much improvement from his influential midfielder.
“In my opinion we are talking about a top, top player here. And if he wants, he can change every game. But I think he can do better. He has played some good games for us but he can do better because he has everything.” (Guardian)
The Italian does not believe Nasri has suffered or diminished since his turbulent move from Arsenal, but I would beg to disagree. Under Arsene Wenger he was the iconic figure of an exciting attacking line-up, nowadays he is merely a generic member of a squad largely tainted by greed.
He may have a Premier League winners medal tucked away at home but he was hardly an indispensible cog in their title race machine. During last summer’s European Championships, despite some positive displays, he was draped in controversy after an expletive-laden rant directed at his own nation’s press.
Nasri was not alone in his abrasive nature – Philippe Mexes bullied his way past a young volunteer just too avoid reporters – but it was Nasri’s actions that made the headlines. It wasn’t even an isolated incident, with a fierce remark reportedly aimed at journalists after he picked up the Man of the Match award against Ukraine.
The 25 year-old attempted to justify his behaviour as a stand against what he considers “unfair media criticism”. However, president of the French Football Federation, Noël Le Graët, described him as “intolerable” while head coach Laurent Blanc labelled his comments “embarrassing and regrettable”, before adding, “I already told Samir what I had to say, obviously the message did not get through.” (Guardian)
The reaction of his superiors highlights their perception of an egotistical individual, concerned primarily with his own fortunes. Since his ascent to stardom upon arriving on English soil, Nasri has found his head stuck in the clouds and Mancini’s assessment that he only had “two-and-a-half” players in his wall, only serves to depict a man that is a shadow of his former self.
During his spell at Arsenal, he flourished alongside the equal-minded and equally paid Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie. He was the jewel in a crown beginning to rediscover its shine and displayed the physical and mental strength that reignited comparisons with the legendary Zinedine Zidane.
However, at Manchester City he is permanently trapped in the shadow of fellow playmaker David Silva. While the Spaniard is adept to playing out wide under Mancini, Nasri has struggled and repeatedly finds himself bullied by full-backs. His stark refusal to help out with the defensive duties prompted Gary Neville to unleash this painfully accurate verdict:
“This is a player you’ll see when the ‘oles’ are coming out, but when the going gets tough I’m not sure he fancies it that much.” (Manchester Evening News)
As Robin van Persie wheeled away in celebration, Pablo Zabaleta crumbled on to the post, distraught at the fact his efforts would go unrewarded. Nasri on the other hand shrugged and wandered back up the pitch, ignoring the volley of abuse coming from Tevez. Mario Balotelli is often an easy target for those die-hard enforcers of the ‘British Bulldog’ spirit but despite another uninspiring performance, he may thrive now the critical glare is fixated on another target.
There is no denying Samir Nasri is an incredibly talented footballer, which makes his current predicament all the more infuriating. In many ways, he has undergone a role reversal with Tevez, becoming disillusioned with life in Manchester, which is particulary evident from his rapidly degrading athletic physique.
However, if a golf-loving arrogant striker can worm his back from exile then so can a sulky Frenchman. He just has to rediscover his motivation, even if that involves Mancini luring him onto the pitch with a bigger paycheck attached to a piece of string.