Very few players have managed to anger Manchester City fans quite like Samir Nasri has. Frustrated by his lack of hard work and application, they can be forgiven for expecting far more than the Frenchman delivered last season. He had, by his own admission, a very poor 2012-13 season, often finding himself on the periphery of matches having little to no influence.
In an interview for L’Equipe (reproduced Thursday in The Sun [subscription required]), Nasri has put forward his defence, claiming his relationship with former manager Roberto Mancini was so bad that it affected his form.
I put on airs and graces and a strong front but, inside, I was bleeding. I was suffering.
I endured my worst season since becoming a professional. I am now quite happy at City whereas there was no way I could be last season. Roberto signed me and I started games but he would take me off before the end.
We had some disagreements and I had some problems with him, as his methods are very different to Arsene Wenger’s at Arsenal. As a boss, Mancini was a typical Italian. He does not try to be close to his players. He would arrive at the training ground and not even say hello. He’d just tell you what he wanted to do.
Wenger would go round the dressing room every day and talk with his players. You could express yourself. At the end of last season, Mancini tried to hurt my pride by saying I played at 50 per cent. It worked. I was good the last three matches.
His [Pellegrini’s] training sessions are truly something special. He came to see me on his first day in charge and told me he is counting on me. He said I am an important player and told me I will get games. I won’t get carried away but, if I perform well, the manager will pick me. I really want to have a great season now. I’m wound up for it like a cuckoo clock.
His comments show an acceptance of his poor form and suggest he wants to improve but, of course, talk is cheap. It’s on the field City fans need to see an improvement, and his form so far this season has been eerily similar to that of last.
The most disappointing aspect of Nasri’s performances in a Blue shirt is that he is an extremely talented footballer. There are other City players—think James Milner and Pablo Zabaleta—with a fraction of his talent, yet they work incredibly hard for the team and are hugely respected by the fans. They add value to City—Nasri does not.
Manchester City supporters won’t accept anything less than 100 percent. After years spent languishing in the lower reaches of English football, they value hard work and tenacity. “I don’t mind lack of talent but I won’t tolerate a shirker,” has become a popular refrain on the terraces. The people of Manchester are grafters themselves and expect to see their own ethos reflected by the team they support.
Too often Nasri lets himself down in this regard. He must start imposing himself on matches and working hard for the team if he is to fully win over the doubters in the crowd.
There’s also the problem of Nasri’s best position on the City team still being a mystery. He’d probably feel a central role just off the striker suits him best, but City have so many candidates ahead of him who can play that role more adeptly that he’s often asked to drift wide. It’s there he struggles to have an impact.
Roberto Mancini even tried playing him in a deeper midfield role, but that didn’t suit him either. His neat passing looked a good fit, but his lack of bite made him seem too soft to really nail down the position.
Finding a role that gets the best out of his talents is one of the most difficult conundrums Manuel Pellegrini faces. He has a potential world-class player on his squad but one who is underperforming massively.
Thursday’s interview at least demonstrates his desire to have a better season this time, but what Nasri needs to realise is that playing football is easier when you have the fans on your side.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity