Last August, Samir Nasri was still a Manchester City player. Following Pep Guardiola’s overhaul of the squad upon his arrival, the former French international was told he was overweight and barred from training with the first team squad until he rectified the problem.
But although Nasri always seemed destined for the exit door once that initial snub was made public, it’s easy to forget that his first game of the season was in a 3-1 Manchester City victory over West Ham United at the Etihad Stadium. That day, he came on as a substitute for Nolito for the final 15 minutes; a short cameo, but one which still produced three shots. It looked as though he was trying to impress his new boss.
Just a few days later, though, he was on his way to Sevilla, joining Jorge Sampaoli’s revolution on a season-long loan. It’s undeniable, though, that on his day, Nasri has the ability to play a key role even at a club as rich in midfield talent as City. Sevilla soon realised they had a good player.
But it was a strange season. He starred, majestically, in the first half of the campaign when it looked like Sevilla might even challenge the Barcelona / Real Madrid hegemony at the top of La Liga. That early promise fizzled out, but there was a while when it looked like a first title since 1946 wasn’t entirely out of the question. Even in Europe, Sevilla looked good – right up until Jamie Vardy scored in the second half at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
That’s another side of Nasri’s season that it’s easy to forget: he was stunningly effective for Sevilla last season, both in positive and negative ways. Sent off in the second leg against Leicester, he put his team in an impossible situation. He didn’t even play well up until then.
And yet, the Frenchman averaged over 93 passes per game in that competition, making a stunning 145 passes – a Champions League record – against Dinamo Zagreb in the group stage. That was a 92% pass completion rate in a game where he also scored a goal and made an assist.
But when the wheels came off for Nasri after Christmas, and they did for his team, too. His decline in form in the second half of the season mirrored his team’s slump.
You can take that two ways: either Nasri’s lack of consistency cost his side dearly, or his loan club’s decline in form caused the Frenchman to underperform. But given the speed with which Sampaoli left the club at the end of the season to take over the Argentina national job, there might be grounds to be charitable to Nasri in that regard.
That is a question which will define the next step in his career. Who will take a chance on the Frenchman next season? Nasri clearly comes with baggage, and his wage demands could put another club off giving him a chance. There’s also no guarantee, that he would even have the right attitude to join a club who isn’t in the Champions League – would he even care?
And yet, City do seem to want to get rid. Over the last few days, Nasri has been linked by The Sun with Shanghai Shenhua in China, and with Fenerbahce by Turkish media outlet NTV Spor (via TalkSport). City seem keen to offload, especially with the arrival of Bernardo Silva filling one more space in the pecking order. But there doesn’t seem to much movement from the Premier League.
That’s surprising. Nasri, on his day, could turn out to be a talismanic talent for another top-half Premier League club. The likes of West Ham United, who lost Dimitri Payet last year, and Everton, who could lose Ross Barkley, could use a player like him.
Both sides are likely to attempt to play a style of football which would be enhanced by his ability. Last year, Everton’s ability to play on the counter-attack was helped greatly by the fact that Ross Barkley and Romelu Lukaku are pacey, direct players. Losing both this summer could necessitate a new, more considered style of play. And one that would benefit from a player who consistently hits around the 90% pass accuracy mark.
Although Manuel Lanzini is the clear heir apparent to Payet in Slaven Bilic’s set-up, it’s clear that Nasri is no longer just a creative attacking midfielder – he spent last season pulling the strings in one of the most exciting teams in Spain. Perhaps losing Payet to Marseille was a blessing in disguise for the Hammers, and replacing him with another volatile former OM playmaker may well be a step too far.
Nasri is a rare talent. A player who is both creative and competent. There’s a reason he’s been at the top of the game for so long, not to mention a big part of one of Europe’s most exciting sides for much of last season. He’s too good for the Premier League to lose him to a lesser league, too.
Perhaps the Frenchman is seen as too much of a disruptive influence. Maybe some clubs feel he is more likely to mouth off in the media than create vital goals. His outburst at journalists at Euro 2012, or his girlfriend’s tirade at Didier Deschamps after Nasri was left out of the French 2014 World Cup squad may have coloured opinions. It’s entirely possible the people who matter think of Drip Doctors rather than key passes when his name pops up as a potential signing.
Whatever the reasons, though, not taking a punt on Nasri is to miss out on a phenomenal talent. And there are certain Premier League clubs for whom a punt could be well worth the risk.