Friday 22 September 2017

Nasri emerging from dark place to shine in spotlight once again

Samir Nasri has admitted he struggled for form last season
Samir Nasri has admitted he struggled for form last season

Tim Rich

His manager once wanted to punch him and, looking back, Samir Nasri could understand why. He described last season as one from which he bled "from deep inside". Now, however, the wounds are healing.

Roberto Mancini, the man who threatened to lay Nasri out flat, was never one for throwing an arm around anyone's shoulder. Had he remained at Manchester City, it is unlikely one of the Premier League's most gifted midfielders would be at the Etihad Stadium preparing for his 100th game for the club, at home to Viktoria Plzen tonight.

Depression and stress well up in all sportsmen, not just cricketers. For Nasri it came to the surface in the bowels of the Donbass Arena in Ukraine after France had lost their Euro 2012 quarter-final to Spain. A journalist asked him for a quote. Nasri told him he was "looking for s**t, looking for trouble". Then the player drowned out the conversation with a cannon-fire of expletives.

It took him a year to win back his place in the France squad and when he returned to Ukraine for the World Cup play-offs this month, he was given three out of 10 by 'L'Equipe'.

BLOSSOMED

But this time Nasri could take it. At the Etihad his game had blossomed once more. As Newcastle, Manchester United, Norwich and then Tottenham were swept away, the partnership with David Silva appeared to be everything it once promised. In Manuel Pellegrini he has a manager whom he described as "a father figure" in a way Arsene Wenger once was.

During his lost season he found it hard to talk to his real parents. When he scored the equaliser against England at Euro 2012, his father, Abdelhamid, rebuked him for putting his fingers to his lips while looking at the press box. "Tactless," he called it.

"I wasn't feeling myself," said Nasri. "After the European Championship and the beef with the French journalists, I refused to speak to anybody for months and had a lot of bad press in France.

"It was a little difficult. In my head I wasn't the same. I didn't play well for City. Keeping things to yourself is never good so I decided to talk to the people I love and decided to smile and be happy and do what I do best -- play football.

"I spoke to my parents, my agent; the people that matter. Before, I had refused to speak to them because it was really difficult and it was all inside me."

He can smile now at Mancini's comments. "It was just a word. Managers have different ways of working. Some like to say things in the press to make their players react and some like to say things face to face. Some players see things in the press, it touches their ego and they react.

"Last year I just wasn't in a good place. Everything he was saying was difficult for me to accept. It wasn't his fault, it was just me."

One of Nasri's regrets was the way he left Arsenal in 2011. He wished there had been more time to talk things through with Wenger. Now that Arsenal look once more to be a force in the Premier League, what really does he think?

"Good for them," comes with the smile. "I am happy for the players and the manager because he is a good person. But it's just the start of the season. I am looking to be on top of them at the end of the year. I want to be a champion."

Meanwhile, Pellegrini has insisted that there is no possibility of Joe Hart being sold or loaned in the January transfer window. This means that, unless he wins back his place from Costel Pantilimon, Hart would go to the World Cup as second-choice goalkeeper for his club.

City have been linked with January bids for goalkeepers as diverse as Stoke's Asmir Begovic and Real Madrid's Iker Casillas, but Pellegrini said: "There is a lot of news about five, six, seven goalkeepers that we want to buy but it's not true. Of course he stays.

"There is no chance for Joe Hart to go out from this squad in January." (© Independent News Service)

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