Samir Nasri's 15-minute cameo against West Ham United on Sunday proved to be nothing more than a shop-window opportunity. The Frenchman has joined Sevilla on a season-long loan from Manchester City, according to Sky Sports, despite suggestions after the game he could stay.
"Nasri can stay," Pep Guardiola told reporters after the 3-1 win. "Samir arrived overweight but after seven days, 10 days, it was fantastic how he trained. It depends on him. If he wants to help us and stay to be part of something, it depends on him."
It seems, then, that Nasri has called time on his City career. The likelihood now is he would look to find a permanent move in the summer, and he will surely regret how his time at the club has panned out.
"His quality is another level," Guardiola admitted on Sunday. It’s an opinion that is reflected across City’s fanbase. When Nasri was fit and at his best, there were very few in the Blues squad who could match his technical brilliance.
Too often, though, his form has wavered, undermined by his attitude and approach to professional football. His career at the Etihad Stadium, which has seen him win two Premier League titles and one Capital One Cup, could have been so much more.
Hart and Nasri leaving on the same day. If that doesn't make you feel sad at all then chances are you've never been to City.— Liam. (@mcfc_lw) August 31, 2016
His first season was excellent. City won their first league title in 44 years, and Nasri was a key figure, playing 45 games in all competitions and scoring six goals. He was a creative force, a player who could produce that moment of improvised brilliance to create an opportunity.
He wasn’t just an effective part of City’s attack; he was a player who set the pulses racing in the stands and represented the team’s desire to play a more open, expansive style.
He followed his dream debut season with an underwhelming one (a pattern he would later repeat). After Nasri had starred in a 3-1 win over Newcastle United back in 2013, former City manager Roberto Mancini said, per the Guardian's Jamie Jackson:
I would like to give him a punch. Because a player like him should play like today always. Always. Every game. Maybe one game sometimes he can play [badly] but with his quality ... I don't know what was different on Saturday. I can't understand [why] sometimes a player with his quality doesn't play like today [in] every game.
Nasri had been anonymous for much of the season, failing to live up to the standard he’d set in the previous campaign. It was frustrating for Mancini, a manager who often appeared personally affronted when his players weren’t at their best.
The Italian had signed Nasri for £24 million on the back of the midfielder’s fine season at Arsenal and knew that, at his best, he was one of the best in the Premier League—but he wasn’t proving it on a consistent basis.
The arrival of Manuel Pellegrini that summer lifted the pressure that had been building in the City squad. Mancini was autocratic in his management style. It led to tension and division among the players, coaching staff and the club at large.
Pellegrini, who brought a softer approach, got big improvements out of his players, none more so than Nasri, who once again felt he had a manager on his side and appreciated him. Pellegrini’s more amiable man-management worked a treat, and Nasri felt liberated.
City won the first league-and-cup double in their history, scoring 156 goals in all competitions and producing arguably the finest football they have managed in recent times. Between November and January, they managed a 20-game unbeaten run, winning 18. They defeated Tottenham 6-0 and 5-1, Norwich City 7-0 and Arsenal 6-3. It was an amazing run of form.
Nasri was central to most of it. He played 46 games and scored 11 goals, including a superb outside-of-the-boot effort in the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland. Some of his performances were genuinely world class.
He failed to reach those heights again, though. Fleetingly, he’s shown what he is capable of, but he’s never managed that same consistency. He’s had injury issues, which have undoubtedly held him back—but his work rate and attitude have also been questionable and have contributed to his downfall far more than injury setbacks have.
But the talent remains. Even in his 15 minutes against West Ham, he demonstrated his quality. Determined to show he was fit after criticism of his condition when he returned from pre-season training, he chased players down and worked hard off the ball to prove he does have the fight inside him to perform at the highest level. Ultimately, it proved too little too late, and his time at City is now nearing an end.
His natural ability cannot be denied. He keeps possession better than most in City’s squad. Strong and with great close control, it’s difficult for defenders to take the ball off him, and he’s capable of finding a decent pass at the end of a move.
But to sustain a place in a side like City, who are constantly striving to improve their performance on the field, it requires so much more than talent. Mental strength, professionalism and a positive attitude are things Nasri has lacked.
Mancini summed the Frenchman up succinctly in 2014, when he said, per the Manchester Evening News' Paul Handler:
Samir is a player who has incredible qualities but a productivity that bears no comparison with his talent. He didn’t understand that you always have to give your best.
It really pains me. I did everything so that he’d come and he settled for the minimum. He’s a player who has the ability not to be a good player but to be a world-class player. What a pity that he won’t even play in the World Cup.
City have had two wonderful seasons from Nasri in his five-year stint at the club—which is not good enough for a player of his calibre. His signing has hardly been a disaster, but anyone who has watched him closely is likely to say it could have been so much more.
He’s been maddeningly inconsistent and one of the most frustrating players at City in recent seasons. It is perhaps best for everyone that he leaves and tries to rediscover his passion for the game.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and follows the club from a Manchester base. All quotes and information were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Follow him on Twitter @RobPollard_.