Nasri the scapegoat as French media probe France’s fissures

George Orwell once wrote: “The English are not happy unless they are miserable.” They are not the only ones. France may be within four points of a place at Euro 2012, having also beaten both England and Brazil in friendlies over the last 12 months, but the French sports media are not satisfied.

Critical of the team’s play and piqued by the supposed egotism of certain players, some members of the French press pack have even dared to make ominous comparisons with the atmosphere in the months that led up to last year’s fateful World Cup campaign. To the neutral observer France appear to have come on in leaps and bounds since the end of the Raymond Domenech era, but fissures remain.

The focal point of much of the criticism over the international break has been Samir Nasri, who stands accused of wilfully slowing France’s play by dwelling on the ball and intruding into areas of the pitch that should be the exclusive domain of his defensive midfield colleagues.

Told by Laurent Blanc that he could “do more” for the national team, Nasri responded that he would prefer to be told about the coach’s concerns “face to face”. Largely anonymous in the 2-1 win in Albania last Friday, he was among five players dropped to the bench for Tuesday’s instantly forgettable 0-0 draw with Romania.

Ineffective in his recent appearances, Nasri also faces increasingly strong competition for his place in the starting XI. Heading the charge to tear the number 10 shirt from his back is Marvin Martin, whose league-high 17 assists last season saw him called into the France fold for the first time. He took to international football more quickly than anyone could have expected, netting two goals and supplying an assist on his debut in a 4-1 defeat of Ukraine in June.

The performance prompted comparisons with Zinedine Zidane, another two-goal debutant for Les Bleus, but it is another esteemed playmaker – Xavi – to whom Martin is most often compared. Teasingly nicknamed ‘Petit Xavi’ by his Sochaux team-mates after L’Équipe highlighted the similarities between the two players last November, Martin has attracted plaudits for his ability to play simply and directly while still keeping an eye open for the killer pass.

The accusation levelled at Nasri is that he cannot play the same way. A montage put together by Téléfoot on Sunday highlighted how often, in the game against Albania, he received the ball in advanced positions, only to turn back on himself, ignoring calls from his team-mates and allowing himself to be pushed away from the opponents’ goal before finally offloading the ball. Quizzed later in the programme by his former France team-mate Bixente Lizarazu, Blanc was asked whether Nasri should try to play more first-time passes, like Xavi or Andrés Iniesta. “No,” was the reply. “He’s a different kind of player.”

For L’Équipe, however, moving the ball quickly is paramount and the newspaper’s journalists have been tumbling over themselves in their haste to highlight how Nasri’s rivals continue to outdo him in the ball retention stakes. Despite having to play on a disgraceful cabbage patch of a pitch at Romania’s brand new National Stadium in Bucharest, Martin’s pass completion ratio was an admirable 92 percent. Yohan Cabaye, positioned slightly deeper than Martin, received a rating of 7/10 for his performance. Nasri’s score against Albania was 3/10.

Watching Nasri play for France, it is impossible to avoid the verdict that he does dwell on the ball too much at times. It is as if the mere fact of playing as the nominal playmaker makes him feel obliged to artificially impose his own rhythm on the game by slowing it down at every available opportunity.

He may claim it is where he feels “most effective”, but his critics disagree. “Why did Nasri keep stepping on [Alou] Diarra and [Yann] M’Vila’s toes, rather than getting closer to [Karim] Benzema?” asked L’Équipe after the Albania game, before asserting that Nasri’s reluctance to release the ball quickly creates the impression he is “desperate to prove what he is capable of”.

Nasri proved last season how effective he can be when deployed in wide areas and the three assists he supplied on his Manchester City debut proved he is capable of playing more directly. With Florent Malouda still to convince as an inside-out winger playing on the right-hand side (he was also dropped for the Romania game) and Martin advancing an increasingly attractive case for selection, Nasri may realise that he would stand a better chance of nailing down a first-team place if he accepts playing on the right flank.

France are clearly in better health than their native media’s coverage would have you believe, but this is make-or-break time for Samir Nasri. Generally admired while at Arsenal, particularly during his scintillating burst of form in the first half of last season, he has become a magnet for criticism since joining City. Not content with suggesting that the fans of his new club are more passionate than those at Arsenal, he also jeopardised years of goodwill built up at Marseille by revealing that he had considered a move to their sworn enemies, Paris Saint-Germain, during the summer.

Lacklustre on the pitch while sporting the colours of his country and increasingly unpopular in the public eye, Nasri’s place in the national team  may not survive further damage to his reputation.

11 Responses to “Nasri the scapegoat as French media probe France’s fissures”

  • Great post.

    There are some suggestions that Blanc is under the influence of some sort of forced nepotism as some of the players he places faith in (Ribery, Diarra) but he’s too ethical (hmm…okay, patriotic) to do that when there’s too much at stake.

    He’s obviously, though, not supposed to be a traditional number 10 in the form of Platini and Zidane although he does carry a goal threat as they did. Saying that, he’s got a Zidane about him in the way he tries to knit play rather than being incisive but he inherently complicates that task. Nevertheless, it’s sort of a faux 433 Blanc is trying to create; one that can morph into a 4231 which he feels Nasri is better suited to.

    Maybe his dribbling is one of the key reasons Blanc continues to play him in the centre; if he gets it right, he could be extraordinary and so very hard to play against. It’s obvious though, Mancini will not play him in the centre so the practice will only come from playing with the national team. He’s played his best football for Arsenal and then City on the right and as you rightly call, this could be France’s best although Blanc doesn’t look like he wants to fill his team with all ball-players.

  • Daniel:

    Great read, very interesting.

  • LeoSonsha:

    If Diaby is injury free, he can equally push Nasri away from the middle. One other thing is his attitude towards team play. He need to improve or the other players will collectively frustrate him in matches.

  • Jp:

    Great article, this stresses many important issues in French football :

    – French journalists (not helped by an almost monopoly by the press group holding L’Equipe and France Football) have no or so little tactical knowledge. Because their businness model is in disarray they need to create the event with more focus on personal matters or ad hominem attacks. Still they manage to provide ratings for 22 players at a time, that’s something.
    That’s why I stopped reading French press and I’m so grateful to have this site and some others to actually learn something from the games. I still hear about them as pundits in talk shows. Negativity and defeatism are strong allies to sell paper or advertisement and it’s an easy way to do so.

    – The main reason Nasri has recently had a bad rep amongst French journalists is because he behaved somehow badly at the last press joint. They don’t focus at him because of bad performances or otherwise.
    And Man City is still dissed as a money honeypot, not a competitive team where serious people want to improve their game.

    – Against Albania, Diarra, Ribéry, Malouda, Nasri were out of touch. Maybe it was just plain bad luck or wrong tactics with such players, maybe they don’t give 100% to the national team, I don’t know. Benzema used to underperfom as well, even before his arrival at Madrid and his difficult start there. More reliable players seem to come from Ligue 1 clubs (Lloris, M’Vila, Martin, Gameiro) but Sagna and Benzema are essential.

  • [...] to the present, Tom Williams sees the French media find a new scapegoat in the forgettable qualifying performances by Les Bleus [...]

  • bobeto:

    The negativity surrounding the team is odd considering they haven’t lost since Blanc’s 2nd game in chanrge (Belarus at home), and that the only ‘bad’ performances came at the end of last season (when eveyone’s tired) and the start of this (when no-one’s up to speed yet).

    That having been said, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the fluidity of the team has been adversely affected in the absence of… Mexes. And the defence looks shakier too. But no-one seems to be bringing it up (certainly I’ve not heard/read anything on the subject, and I listened to RMC quite a bit in the last week). About six years too late, but Phil finally seems to have made himself indispensible to France. Pity no-one’s noticed. Such is life!

  • bobeto:

    As for Nasri/the attacking band of 3 behind Benzema in general… Gawd knows. Nasri was great in the middle against England but that was with an in-form Malouda and Valbuena on the flanks and also Gourcuff behind him relieving him of some of the creative burden. But there’s a year to work on this before the Euro (which we should still qualify for, barring an Israel/Bulgaria 1993-style catastrophe).

    I think the main problem with the attack is Ribery and Malouda, who don’t have anything more to offer the team, and who should cede their places to younger wide players that France have very deep supplies of (Nzogbia, Menez, Payet, Remy, Mounier and many more). An additional problem with Ribery, one I think I mentioned a long tme ago on this blog, is that he takes up the same areas as Benzema (inside left), and that they are completely incompatible as players. I hope he leaves the team soon, for everyone’s sake.

    • anon:

      Interesting comment re the incompatability of Benzema and Ribery. I noticed that they were bickering about something during parts of the Romania game. So you may be right, Bobeto.

  • [...] starter – having netted the penalty against Bosnia that took France to the Euro – but he has regularly been reminded by Blanc of the need for him to “do more” when playing for his country. In any case, his position has been strengthened by Marvin Martin’s [...]

  • [...] link: Nasri the scapegoat as French media probe France’s fissures Posted in Euro 2012 | Tags: France, Laurent Blanc, Samir [...]

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