When France national team coach Didier Deschamps announced his decision to leave Manchester City’s Samir Nasri out of his 23-man FIFA World Cup squad—not even handing him a place on the seven-man reserve list per ESPN FC—the reaction outside the country was one of incredulousness.
Inside, however, the non-selection of the 26-year-old was not greeted with surprise as it had been expected. Why did Nasri’s omission from the final 23-man squad not provoke an outcry in his home country then?
Simple. The talented Frenchman is not the same player for Les Bleus that he is for his club. On top of that, Nasri is seen as a disruptive character and has a chequered history when representing the national team per ESPN FC.
As Deschamps also revealed—again per ESPN FC—the Manchester City man finds it difficult to accept that he is not a key part of this France side because of his inconsistent performances. The 45-year-old evidently did not feel that he would play a major role in Brazil—especially since changing to a 4-3-3 formation—so opted to leave him behind instead.
The former Olympique de Marseille coach is prepared to live or die by his decision, but he could be made to regret it later this summer.
With Nasri—when he is in form—you have a tremendously creative talent, and that is something that this current French team is in short supply of when you consider the struggles that Bayern Munich’s Franck Ribery and Real Madrid’s Karim Benzema have gone through on the international stage.
Looking at the current 23-man squad, you can see why Deschamps felt as if he could leave Nasri out.
There is still an abundance of potential creative talent with the likes of Ribery, Benzema, Nasri’s former Marseille teammate Mathieu Valbuena, Juventus’ Paul Pogba, Paris Saint-Germain’s Yohan Cabaye and Real Sociedad’s Antoine Griezmann.
However, the problem for the French is that their star players’ productivity at club level is rarely replicated at international level, and because of this, it is a lottery as to who will actually perform when the tournament starts.
With Nasri in the squad, Deschamps would have had one extra and potentially game-changing option to toy with.
The 4-2-3-1 formation that France were playing prior to their 3-0 second-leg play-off victory over Ukraine—a system that suited Nasri’s positioning perfectly—was dispensed with after the disastrous 2-0 first-leg defeat in Kiev. The Manchester City man was guilty of putting in a poor performance, knowing that it was one of his last chances to impress his coach.
His inept showing suggested that—even in his favoured position—it is not certain that he will put on a display that reflects the best of his abilities. Nasri’s underperformance in Kiev badly damaged Deschamps’ confidence in the player, and partly as a result, the coach opted to change to a 4-3-3 system instead.
Although that style does not suit Nasri, he still could have contributed from there for Les Bleus in Brazil.
Thanks to a lack of right-sided options, had the former Arsenal man featured in South America, he would likely have been deployed on the right of the front three. Benzema occupies the central role, with Ribery on the left and one of Valbuena, Griezmann and possibly even Newcastle United’s Loic Remy on the right.
Also, with few options at the point of the attack outside of Benzema and Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud, Nasri could also have provided valuable flexibility in a supporting role behind the two. Deschamps would have had to show some bravery for that to have happened, though, seemingly reticent to try it otherwise.
Nasri’s unpredictability could also have worked in Les Bleus’ favour.
Already under pressure to perform prior to the Ukraine play-off doubleheader, the creative talent has a point to prove to his country and is running out of chances to do so. The World Cup could have provided the much maligned player with the best opportunity for redemption in circumstances that would have forced him to raise his game.
88.9% - @SamNasri19's pass completion in the final third, best ratio for a French player in the major European leagues this season. Doubts— OptaJean (@OptaJean) May 13, 2014
However, Nasri won’t be at the World Cup this summer and instead will have to make do with watching on from afar.
If France fall early on or are sent packing because of a lack of penetration later on in the competition, expect this debate to reignite and for the issue of Nasri’s omission to become a more pertinent question back home.