How Samir Nasri Went from Being the ‘New Zidane’ to an Outcast

Nasri

London – Samir Nasri had taken to Premier League life straightaway but within three months of his Arsenal debut something was bothering him. The season had, on a collective level, lapsed into a now familiar pattern of inconsistency but Nasri thought he and his team-mates were being treated poorly. They had just beaten Chelsea at Stamford Bridge but before the next match, a home game with Wigan Athletic that became infamous for the treatment meted out to Emmanuel Eboué from the stands, he railed against the “acharnement” – widely translated as relentless criticism and perhaps better shortened to invective – he felt Arsenal had received from the press.

Almost nine years have passed and Nasri may reflect that those were the days when, at 21 and hyped as the “new Zidane”, there was far less to worry about. He is in limbo now, remaining within a Manchester City set-up that has little choice but to integrate him while concrete interest from elsewhere fails to materialize. The obvious question is: how has it come to this for a player who still seems too young for such a sharp decline in status?

The most immediate concern for Nasri is the doping case, being overseen by Uefa, that hangs over him following an intravenous drip therapy treatment he is said to have received at a Los Angeles clinic late last year. City are yet to be given a date for its resolution and the effect is obvious: nobody, whether Roma or one of the other Italian and Chinese clubs to have been linked with his services, will exercise anything but caution while the possibility of a lengthy ban remains.

It may turn out Nasri was simply unlucky but the wider picture is that he tends to bring problems on himself. Few more infuriating characters have competed in the Premier League over recent years; the one thing no one questions about Nasri is his talent and it is only three years since, having frustrated Roberto Mancini with inconsistency to the extent the former City manager said he would like to “give him a punch”, he rallied under Manuel Pellegrini to star in a second title-winning campaign. Perhaps he will come good again but the suggestions are of burned bridges, with team-mates reported to have bridled against his perceived arrogance in pre-season.

That flash of annoyance with the media in December 2008, a month after he had scored twice in a defeat of Manchester United, betrayed more than seemed obvious at the time. Nasri is a sensitive, touchy character who reads his reviews and has a habit of reacting to them. It is a trait whose most high-profile effect came in the foul-mouthed row with a French journalist during Euro 2012 that led to his being phased out of the international set-up; it has rubbed others, too, up the wrong way and the impression is of an individual whose reflex for self-preservation has had the opposite effect to the one he intended.

Vikash Dhorasoo, a former France international who knows the alienation a free footballing spirit can feel, expressed it well – and sympathetically – when saying in a newspaper column five years ago: “I just hope when he retires Nasri will discover the joys of the collective.”

It was a telling remark because Nasri, famously accused of disrespecting Thierry Henry by sitting in his seat on the France team bus, has rarely been one to go with the crowd. In football that does not get one very far and perhaps Nasri has suffered on the pitch by not being the player a manager is willing to build an attack round.

At Arsenal he jostled for prominence with Cesc Fàbregas and Robin van Persie, outdoing both in an excellent 2010-11 season; at City he has tended to play his best football when David Silva, a less explosive player but one more conducive to a team’s continuity, has been sidelined.

Nasri has never quite had the place he feels his abilities deserve; that has not always translated into a positive influence elsewhere and his head has shown a tendency to drop. The red card he received after his loan club last season, Sevilla, fell behind to Leicester in their Champions League last-16 match is recent evidence and it tainted an otherwise respectable spell in Spain.

It all adds up to the image of a self-centered, unreliable individual and that is unfortunate because, where ideas about football are concerned, Nasri has always been more switched-on than many. On arriving at Arsenal he described himself as a “non-axial playmaker”; coming from an onlooker’s mouth that would run the risk of being unfathomable jargon but in this instance it suggested a refreshing degree of thought about his role.

During his early seasons in England Nasri would talk with particular knowledge and clarity about other players and teams; no one could say he does not know the game, and perhaps a kind reading of his plight would be that it is a consequence of consistently overthinking while others simply get on with the job.

He will need somebody to be similarly sympathetic if he is to achieve what looked possible a decade ago. He will also need enough people to care. In France Nasri’s name is a near-irrelevance as players such as Kylian Mbappé and Ousmane Dembélé brim with the promise he once held. In England players of inferior ability are shuttled between top-flight clubs for fees several times what it would cost to prise him from City.

Nasri has time to avoid being yesterday’s man. If he makes any more mistakes, then relentless criticism will, when looking back at a career of such possibility, be an enduring norm.

The Guardian Sport

Kasper Schmeichel’s Champions League Brilliance Confirms His Rise to the Elite

Kasper Schmeichel is congratulated by team-mate Ben Chilwell after helping his team reach the Champions League quarter-finals.

There was something a little eerie about Kasper Schmeichel’s penalty save towards the end of Leicester City’s uproarious Champions League defeat of Sevilla. Mainly it was the element of real-time deja vu about the whole thing. Not just because Schmeichel had also kept out a penalty from Joaquín Correa in Seville. This was a save that seemed oddly inevitable from the moment the kick was awarded, to be already happening even as Steven Nzonzi frowned and placed the ball on the spot, Schmeichel bobbing on his toes and doing that funny little Bruce Lee-style beckoning gesture with his fingers.

Schmeichel knew what was about to happen. Nzonzi definitely knew: his kick was terrible, a flaccid, scuffed thing lacking any menace, spite or basic human will to live. It almost bounced twice before it got to Schmeichel, who had to wait before grabbing it, the only danger that he might be deceived by the lack of pace, like a batsman playing too early at a slower ball.

Nzonzi has never scored a penalty in his career. He may not take another. Although he will, you imagine, get to see this one again in those moments after he closes his eyes and starts to drift off to sleep. In the stands Leicester’s supporters celebrated with a sense of gathering triumph. In the press seats harassed, sweating newspaper hacks began to batter away with sudden conviction at their early-edition copy. From that point it was clear Leicester were going to win this tie on the details.

The most obvious of which is that in Schmeichel they have a goalkeeper who has proved beyond any doubt, a decade into a picaresque career – the Falkirk years, that Darlington adolescence – that these high-pressure moments really do lift his game.

Even the most talented sportspeople can fade into the action at the highest levels. Others are able to find that rare space beyond the nuts and bolts of actual talent (which is, as they say, overrated) where victory becomes an act of spirit and champion will.

Schmeichel has made fewer saves per game in Leicester’s Champions league run than he has in the Premier League. Against Sevilla on Tuesday he made three all night, each a key moment in isolation. Very good goalkeepers will tell you this is the sign of a very good goalkeeper. Afterwards Craig Shakespeare, who knows Schmeichel well, was asked if there was a better keeper in Europe. “Possibly not,” Leicester’s manager replied without missing a beat.

Comparing top-class goalies has always been one of the more fruitless aspects of football’s urge to rank and list. Beyond a certain threshold so much depends on form and luck and the players in front of you. Plus, of course, there are some very good goalkeepers around the place these days, the position itself energised by the trend for keepers who can drive the game from the back, from Hugo Lloris’s sweeper-keeper schtick to the comedic regista-manqué stylings of Claudio Bravo.

Schmeichel’s brilliance across both legs of the Champions League last-16 stage confirms his own rise, aged 30, to the elite goalkeeping caste. No doubt further rumours of a move from Leicester – Barcelona and Real Madrid have been mentioned, a little fancifully, in the past – will mushroom in time.

Signing Schmeichel would instantly improve at least four of the current top seven. Peter Schmeichel, his father, was once such a huge Liverpool fan he told the club he would pay his own travel costs from Denmark if they offered him a trial (Graeme Souness turned him down: he already had David James). Liverpool also seems the most likely destination for Schmeichel Jr should he become available, and indeed an excellent fit.

If such man-of-the-moment recognition has been quite a long time coming, Schmeichel has also impressed wherever he has been on his 10-year meander through the divisions. Another oddity of Schmeichel v Nzonzi is that in a bizarre parallel world they might even have been England team-mates had the Football Association’s overtures towards both men been successful.

Schmeichel was sounded out as a possible England player as long ago as 2007, the same year he made a Premier League debut in Sven-Goran Eriksson’s Manchester City team. Joe Hart’s emergence stopped his progress and two years later Schmeichel moved on to Notts County, where he had the grace and generosity to tear up his own contract when the club hit the buffers.

There is a sense of the world turning his way in recent years. Goalkeeping itself has changed a little. Schmeichel is hardly a titch at 6ft 2in. But the one real doubt in his younger days was the idea he might fail to “dominate his area”, to provide a genuinely imposing old-school physical presence.

Ten years on from his City debut the best keepers tend to be mobile, integrated into the defensive back line, agile rather than imposing.

Schmeichel is the same height as Marc-André ter Stegen, taller then Bravo, and just two inches off Manuel Neuer. If he doesn’t quite have the eye-popping ball skills of Neuer or Ter Stegen his distribution is at least decisive and precise. Stats suggest Schmeichel has the longest kick of any goalkeeper in the Champions League. His ability to launch hard, flat accurate passes 60 yards downfield is key to the way Leicester play when they play the way Leicester ought to play, all deep defence and fast breaks.

This is the other side of Schmeichel’s wonderful performance against Sevilla. There will be a temptation to announce that none of the other teams left in the Champions League will want to play Leicester City now. In fact the opposite is true. All of the other teams left in the Champions league will want to play Leicester City. Show me a plucky underdog: I’ll show you an underdog.

On the other hand, if Sevilla’s possession-heavy impotence at the King Power tells us anything it is that Leicester’s style may just be a good fit with the remaining Champions League teams. Most of the European grandees left tend to commit players forward as a matter of seigneurial right. Deep defence, an excellent goalkeeper and swift accurate forward passes are the best response. More of the same from Schmeichel, Leicester’s best player in Europe this year, and they may just have a chance of bloodying another nose along the way.

(The Guardian)