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In Hunt for Joy, Manchester City's Samir Nasri Finding What He Wanted at Sevilla

Tim Collins@@TimDCollinsFeatured ColumnistOctober 4, 2016

SEVILLE, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 10:  Samir Nasri of Sevilla FC in action during the match between Sevilla FC vs UD Las Palmas as part of La Liga at Estadio Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan on September 10, 2016 in Seville, Spain.  (Photo by Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images)
Aitor Alcalde Colomer/Getty Images

It had started with a one-two, had featured a slick ball to bust things open and had concluded with a cool finish, and he'd done all of it. Performed with a fusion of polish and panache, it was something we'd seen before but not for quite some time; so off he went, seeking out the new faces he's joined, celebrating his first major mark on his new club, a smile on his face. It's what he's here for. 

Samir Nasri says his move to Sevilla is not simply about playing time but about a hunt for something that had faded. "I just want to enjoy myself, to rediscover the pleasure of playing football," he told beIN Sports recently (h/t ESPN FC). "My objective today is simply to play well."

Nasri arrived in Andalucia on the last day of the summer transfer window in August. Coming off the back of two years in which he'd slipped from prominence at Manchester City, the second of them blighted by injury, he was the most intriguing of signings but far from a guarantee. At 29, with titles and big clubs already to his name, motivation wasn't a given. Being pushed to the periphery by Pep Guardiola wasn't a ringing endorsement either. 

Sevilla knew they were getting an extremely talented footballer, but there were questions: Where was Nasri at? What did he want? How much did he want it?

The answers have become clear rather quickly. The Frenchman has only been at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan for a month and has only played five games, but already Sevilla can be certain they've pulled off another coup in the market. Immediately inserted into the XI by manager Jorge Sampaoli, Nasri is already his new team's leading figure, a cut above at a club looking to make the jump to where he's come from. 

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If focus had been a concern, it's been dispelled in a hurry. The man on loan from the Etihad has evidently come to play and to win, to lead and to work. His assist for the winner in the Seville derby against Real Betis was followed up by his goal against Athletic Bilbao. Next was a supreme performance in the Champions League against Lyon, the team being run through him and to his designs. If it feels as if he's come to the right place, it's because he has.  

Sevilla's French forward Samir Nasri celebrates a goal during the Spanish league football match Athletic Club Bilbao vs Sevilla FC at the San Mames stadium in Bilbao on September 24, 2016. / AFP / JOSU ARITZA        (Photo credit should read JOSU ARITZA/A
AFP/Getty Images

On the day of his presentation at Sevilla, the midfielder spoke of the situation he'd come from, implicitly giving an indication of what he'd come for, radiating a sense of self-analysis.

"It was a very difficult season in every sense of the word, on the sporting front with injuries and in my private life, for reasons which will remain private," he said of his last campaign at City. "My time injured allowed me to rest and reflect. ... I learned a lot last year." 

Nasri added that his new "obsession" was to "be good on the pitch" above all else. There was an enthusiasm stemming from the idea of rediscovery, and he's spoken since of just wanting to play, of football for the sake of football. "That's something I had missed, because I love [it]."

At Sevilla, what he's found is exactly what he was looking for. The Andalucians, with their three consecutive Europa League triumphs and five in a decade, know how to fight and compete as well as anyone, but more than that, they generate what you might term a feeling. 

Sevilla is a club with a fanbase as passionate as they come; a club with a stadium in the Pizjuan that rocks on matchdays like few others; a club in a football-mad city in which the derby with Betis is among the greatest in the sport; a club with a spine-tingling hymn; a club at which a palpable connection exists between player and fan; a club at which stirring emotion and excitement is considered non-negotiable. 

"Fans want their emotions to come to the surface," former Sevilla manager Unai Emery told Pete Jenson for the Daily Mail last year, "and the only to way to make that happen is to give them a team that transmits emotion: intensity, attacking, scoring goals, competing, fighting. That awakens them."

Emery is now gone, but his replacement in Sampaoli is no different. In looking for a lost joy, then, Nasri has come to a place where the football experience stands above all else, where a throwback essence still lives. 

11tegen11 @11tegen11

So much Nasri, that can't be good for Alaves. Hardly any back four passing, lots of it in midfield. Nice. #passmap https://t.co/HxgJKNoHNo

B/R Football @brfootball

Samir Nasri promised so much and delivered not quite enough for #MCFC | @RobPollard_ https://t.co/priHMmlA3y https://t.co/OJ4vvZnWQ9

It couldn't be more different to where he's come from. Like any huge club, Manchester City is viewed entirely through the prism of what each game means rather than what the game means. It's a ruthless world in which Nasri has the talent to thrive, but then talent has never been the question.

The knock on the Frenchman has always been two-pronged. Perceived as a combustible character with an ego, his indiscretions with the French national team have stuck despite his excellence at club level. The other part of it is that such excellence has been seen as too intermittent, the suggestion being that Nasri lacks the relentlessness to maximise his ability: the drive of the very finest. 

"I would like to give him a punch, because a player like him should play like this always," said former City manager Roberto Mancini of the midfielder in 2013. "I can't understand how a player with his quality doesn't play like today every game. ... Sometimes the player can think it is enough to play [at] 50 percent."

The way Nasri has spoken this summer and in the early weeks of this season has left the impression he recognises some of that now. Having the conviction to up sticks and challenge himself elsewhere is evidence of a player who's thinking with clarity for what he needs. Approaching 30, he'd reached a fork-in-the-road point from where it was drift away or go again. Sevilla is giving him the latter.

"I am very happy that Samir came here," said Sampaoli late last month. "I think there are very few players in the world with the ability to play like Samir does." The Argentinian added: "[He's] playing at a superlative level."

Sustaining it is the next task. Though Nasri's start has been impressive, the summer turnover at Sevilla was typically high and the club is still in transition under Sampaoli. New faces are still gelling, a vast array of nationalities and languages trying to come together on the fly while adopting a bold new playing style. Challenges still await. 

For Nasri, though, they're the challenges he wanted, in the environment he wanted. At the Pizjuan, he's playing, leading, conducting, scoring, directing: the lot. He's the star trying to rediscover something, something he once had but lost somewhere along the way.

Sevilla are helping him find it.

                                                

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