Samir Nasri bridles at the less than flattering description of Sunday’s Community Shield. “It is not a glorified friendly,” he rebuts with a shake of the head. Against Arsenal and the supporters who guarantee a hostile reception for the club’s former midfielder at Wembley, how could it be? “They see it as treason or that I betrayed them,” says Nasri of his £24m switch to Manchester City in 2011. “It’s not like that. I just look at what is best for me.” That perspective explains why the Frenchman’s international career is over at the age of 27.
Nasri is attending a free coaching school organised by City in the Community when he confirms his retirement from France after 41 caps. The juxtaposition is striking. Behind the now former international are dozens of schoolchildren eager to impress and dreaming of a career like that of the two-time Premier League champion. The only disillusionment in the air emanates from the coaching school’s special guest himself having evaluated his international future this summer and decided it was no longer best for him.
“It wasn’t a hard summer. I had a great break,” says Nasri with a smile. He knows where the questioning is heading. Despite a major influence on City’s second title success in three seasons, the midfielder was omitted from Didier Deschamps’ squad for the World Cup in Brazil. Manuel Pellegrini, the City manager, was incredulous. Nasri’s girlfriend, Anara Atanes, went a little further on Twitter. “Fuck france and fuck deschamps! What a shit manager,” she wrote, prompting official condemnation from the France Football Federation (FFF), the prospect of a civil lawsuit from Deschamps and criticism that Nasri never plays as well for his country as he does for his club from the national head coach.
“That’s life,” comments Nasri, who opened the scoring in the final-day win over West Ham that sealed the title. “It wasn’t enough for this manager. He said I wasn’t happy when I was on the bench but I don’t know one player who is happy when he’s on the bench, especially when you don’t understand the reason why. I am not bitter. I watched all of France’s games in the World Cup because I love football. What happened is not going to make me hate it.”
But it has prompted the midfielder to call time on a French career he evidently feels brought more trouble than it was worth. Nasri was also overlooked for the France squad at the 2010 World Cup while Euro 2012 ended with a three-match ban from the FFF for verbally abusing reporters following the quarter-final defeat by Spain.
He explains: “I’ve made my decision. I was thinking about it in 2012 after the Euros and now it’s just a confirmation of what I was thinking. I have just turned 27 but, let’s face it, let’s be honest, as long as he is going to be the manager I don’t think I have a shot after everything that has happened. I will only be 29 in 2016 and will have a chance to play in the European Championship but the French national team doesn’t make me happy. Every time I go there, there is just more trouble. I face accusations about me and my family suffers from it and I don’t want to make them suffer, so it’s better to stop it and focus on my club career.”
Nasri says his grievances with France run deeper than Deschamps, with international team-mates also part of the problem. “It’s not just him,” the midfielder says. “He did what he thought was best for his team. I understand his choice, it is not something about him, I don’t have any problem with him. It’s just everything. It is not him who talks in the press, it is the press who say things about me and the players as well.
“Before this World Cup they were saying that some players complain [about Nasri]. Why do you want me to be in the group with some players who can’t even be true in front of me and tell me that they have a problem? I don’t want to be there. I am not happy. I don’t want to go there any more.”
Three years ago the former Marseille and Arsenal player said the same to Arsène Wenger and eventually sealed the transfer to City worth a reported £185,000 a week. Rancour over Nasri’s exit has not disappeared with time at the Emirates and the midfielder is prepared for more verbals at Wembley. Not that he sees any need for rapprochement with the Arsenal supporters.
“I think it’s stupid,” is his take on the continued abuse. “I’m not an Arsenal fan. I am not from London. If we want to be honest, we are players and we are just looking at what are the best interests for us and our career. When Manchester City came for me it was the best choice to come here. I have won trophies and I have a better life so I am really happy about everything. If the fans can’t move on, it’s too bad. I am not trying to have a problem with that. They do what they have to do and they love their club.
“They see it as treason or that I betrayed them but it’s not like that. I just look what’s best for me and that’s what Bacary Sagna did, what [Emmanuel] Adebayor did and what Kolo Touré did. For the fans the only reason [to leave] has to be for the money. But it isn’t just for the money. Yes, it’s a factor and it’s important but, if someone earns 200 [thousand] a week or 150 or 100 a week, it’s not that which is going to make a difference or an impact on your life. So that’s not true.”
Nasri insists he remains “in debt to Arsène Wenger and Arsenal” for making him the player he is today but, while impressed by Alexis Sánchez’s arrival at his former club, believes their title credentials are flawed. He views the challenge to his team’s title as emerging from Stamford Bridge. “It is going to be a tough Premier League,” he explains. “Manchester United is going to be really dangerous because they are not playing in any European competition. Chelsea have done really well buying the players from Atlético Madrid and Cesc Fàbregas. There is Arsenal and Liverpool, even Tottenham with the new manager.
“I think Chelsea will be the biggest threat. Fàbregas will be the guy to replace Frank Lampard. He is a great player. I know, I was with him at Arsenal. They had a weakness up front and signed Diego Costa who had a great season last year. They lost Ashley Cole and they signed Filipe Luís. They have done it really fast as well so the players have spent a lot of time together. They will be really dangerous. Liverpool have signed a lot but they have lost a player like Suárez and it is really hard to replace a guy like this. Arsenal have bought Sánchez, who is a great player, but to me they have a weakness at defensive mid and at centre-back. But they will be dangerous.”