For one to underachieve, one must have had some potential in the first place. Samir Nasri certainly had potential. Signed from Arsenal for a respectable fee of £24m in the summer of 2011, the 25-year-old Frenchman sashayed into the Etihad Stadium as a real Premier League gem – a wonderfully skillful midfielder capable of both creating and scoring goals. There was a reason the club tussled to the death with rivals Manchester United for his signature.
Five years on and Nasri, despite piloting City out of the Champions League group stages with a screamer at the Stadio Olimpico in December 2014, thumping in one of the sweetest half volleys you’ll see in the Capital One Cup final against Sunderland and introducing a composure that still permeates our build-up play to this day, faces the boot after a somewhat half-baked spell at the club. It’s not that Nasri has been bad, it’s just he could have done a lot more.
There have been big goals and a few thoroughly commanding performances from Nasri during his time here, but not nearly enough for a player of his quality. While David Silva and Yaya Touré will go down as legends when their time is done in Manchester, a nearly-man status can only be attributed to Nasri. He’ll be remembered as the the guy who passed the ball quite nicely to his Ivorian and Spanish pals and not the ruthless craftsman or the star man he should probably have been. Useful, but by no means essential.
For some, he’ll be remembered as an inconsistent player with a habit of going missing. Nasri has never scored more than 7 goals in a Premier League season for City and his yearly assists tally has never risen above 8 in blue either. With Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling and new signings Nolito and İlkay Gündoğan now in the fold, City have replaced Nasri’s uncertainty in the final third with genuinely ruthless options.
And yet still there is a belief and a hope that he’ll come good. Nasri is the archetypal Pep Guardiola player in that he keeps the ball excellently and links the defence to the attack in a creative manner. There was excitement among supporters when he returned from an eight-month spell on the sidelines in April and offered a series of phenomenal performances in which his showcased his goal threat and intelligence in the final third. But there’s also an acceptance that he may struggle to maintain that form. Guardiola, by his own admission, is a coach who will make decisions on players based on his own observations and not on what’s happened in the past. So there is a chance for Nasri. Or at least there was.
Perhaps Nasri’s biggest flaw is his attitude. It cost him his place in the French national team and it may cost him a place at City. Guardiola revealed on Thursday that the midfielder had arrived at pre-season training “a little bit overweight,”, a move that wreaks of disinterest. City’s new coach is obsessed with the health and conditioning of his players and it is therefore no surprise that Nasri has been unused in pre-season games against Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. With Roma reportedly sniffing round and ready to pay £12m for him, Nasri must prove in the next few weeks that he is capable of hitting the form that made him a must-buy from Arsenal five years ago.
Another player who could be offloaded in the next few weeks is Jesús Navas, but, perhaps strangely, many would be more opposed to his departure than Nasri’s. In a way, Navas is the complete opposite: a technically limited player who has overachieved during his time at City. While his cross completion rate and unfathomable ability to cock up the easiest of chances has been of particular concern, there’s no denying that the Spaniard has been an important player for us since joining from Sevilla in 2013, especially in games where we’ve been on the back foot.
The pacy winger, a year older than Nasri, was brought in by Manuel Pellegrini to supplement, rather than to revolutionise, the attack and with over 155 chances created to his name, you’d say it’s a job he’s done well. On paper Nasri is far and away the more accomplished of the two but it is Navas who may look back on his City career more fondly.
And as a willing back-tracker and a menace on the counter attack, it is the former Sevilla man who may be of more use to Guardiola. With Leroy Sané to be announced in the coming days and new signing Nolito ready to bolster the attack it is highly unlikely that Navas will be handed the minutes he was under Pellegrini, but his versatility means he could be easily be deployed as a make-shift wing back in Pep’s system. Sevilla are keen on a big homecoming for the fan favourite this summer, but there’s still life for Navas at City if he is happy to accept a secondary role.
As for Nasri, playing second fiddle is not something he is used to and City may be looking to cash in on him before the window shuts at the end of the month.