He moved to win trophies. From London to Manchester, from Arsenal to Manchester City, Samir Nasri made the move that would paint in him a negative light to a great many fans in the summer of 2011. This was at the height of the influx of star names for City and fully seven years after Arsenal’s last trophy success, the 2004-05 FA Cup.
After three developmental seasons at Arsenal, the last of which was his breakthrough to a serious Premier league player, Nasri took what was then a lateral move to City. While there was the convenient and probably partly true factor of trophies amidst a massive restructuring of personnel at City, there was the allure of an £80,000 per week hike in salary to £170,000 that insurmountably outweighed it in Arsenal fans’ eyes. Arsène Wenger fought to keep hold of his budding star but ultimately he had to concede defeat in a summer that also saw the departure of club captain and talisman, Cesc Fàbregas.
He had his move; he was now part of England’s money team who threatened to dominate for years to come.
There is no doubting his talent but an Achilles heel one must have. Unfortunately for him his Achilles heel has meant that he has almost always been seen as secondary to City’s cause and a member of the squad rather than a critical member of the team in the way that David Silva, Yaya Toure, Vincent Kompany, and Sergio Agüero are. It is arguable that without any one of these four City would have not copped the sum total of its silverware so far in its Arab revolution. That argument has considerable merit when we consider that one controls the attack, one bullies and overpowers in midfield, one orchestrates and leads from the back, and one finishes chances to devastating effect.
The same cannot be said of Nasri.
His time at City can be characterised by flashes of brilliance overshadowed by an annoying consistency. Whether it is injury troubles at inopportune times, tactics such as the speed and directness of Jesús Navas on the right, or his own inconsistent form, the performance levels of which he is capable of and should be producing come far too sporadically. Nasri has scored some of the best Premier league goals of the last decade. Some are vintage Arsenal personified such as the one he scored in the third Premier league weekend of the new season against Everton. That goal was a delectable chip executed with the utmost ease in such a way that it could only be done by someone with talent in abundance.
It’s not talent. The issue is not talent. Is it that he is too similar to David Silva? Both are ball playing attacking midfielders who like to drift in towards the middle. The problem is that they both do this and run the risk of getting in each other’s way. Is it that Pellegrini wants variety? Silva seems to be more than capable of handling this task himself. He is the man through which all originates and sometimes ends. Samir Nasri wants to do this, but he does it at a lower level. He does not have quite the ball command or ability to change tempo that Silva has. He does not do it as regularly as Silva on the big stage when it matters most, ironically the same thing Nasri’s effective successor at Arsenal, Mesut Özil has been criticised for.
Enter Sterling and De Bruyne
This season, if he can’t get in the team ahead of Silva who has been given license to roam just about anywhere and lead then he must look to the right side. With Sterling’s arrival two of the three slots are almost certainly bargained away and only one would logically remain. Sterling brings the directness that made Navas so valued and some of the creativity that made Nasri favoured under Mancini.
Before this, Nasri could still lay claim to a respectable amount of playing time. His 2013-14 and 2014-15 minutes are 2,488 and 1,578 versus 1,778 and 2,264 for Navas. The tide turned last season as Pellegrini favoured the speed and crossing that Navas brought more than the occasional brilliance that Nasri brings. His and Navas’ situation at City has recently become even more dire.
Kevin De Bruyne is in every sense the upgrade on Nasri and Navas; playing his role better and more consistently than Nasri ever did in his career in his final season at Wolfsburg. He has been brought to merge the best that Navas and Nasri have to offer bringing pace, vision, and considerable creative prowess. Nasri seemingly is on the periphery even more and might have to be content with being such in what should be the prime of his career at 28 years old.
Substituted trophies for individual acclaim?
At the end of it all he has won trophies, even as a member of the squad rather than a truly key one. It is doubtful that City would be less successful without his services and it is debatable whether Arsenal would have more than the two FA Cups they have won since his departure. What he has won with City are two league titles, a League cup and a Community Shield. Whether that leaves him fulfilled knowing he would have probably been more instrumental had he remained in London is only something he will know.
Nasri remains a talent somewhat untapped and unfulfilled; one which the moments he produces sporadically remind us of. He has won trophies but he would have likely won at Arsenal too. Just how much we will never know. What has been said about Nasri begs the question…does it really matter to him and was it just about the money? The story of the man labelled mercenary continues to be written.