It was Samir Nasri’s birthday on Tuesday. He was hoping to spend it preparing for a Euro 2012 semi-final as a key part of the France team.
Instead he woke up to the news that he might be banned for two years from international football and miss the World Cup.
His crime? Well, the main one was swearing at a journalist in the mixed zone after France’s quarter-final defeat to Spain. After declining to comment on the game for which he had been dropped, Nasri snapped when a journalist said to him: “Get lost”. Nasri’s response: “Go f***yourself, go f*** your mother, you son of a bitch. You want us to have it out, go f*** yourself. There, like that, you can now write that I am badly brought up.”
With Nicolas Anelka being sent home and the French players’ strike at the 2010 World Cup still very fresh in the collective memory of all connected to the France team—and Nasri’s ‘shut-your-mouth’ goal celebration against England, as analysed here, only two weeks old—Nasri’s outburst can now be added to the litany of Frenchmen behaving badly at major competitions (Dugarry 1998, Deschamps 2000, Henry 2002 and er, Nasri again, 2008).
It was strange that he snapped, though. For a start, Nasri had explained his previous celebration by saying it was directed at the journalists who had upset his mother with what they had written. Presumably he knew that his mother would end up reading what he told that French journalist, who like everyone in Donetsk was stunned by what they had heard.
Perhaps there was a clue earlier in the day, when Nasri took assistant coach Alain Boghossian to one side as the team warmed up before the match and demanded to know why he had been dropped. “This is crap,” Boghossian reportedly told a France official after the exchange. While everyone had under-performed in the 2-0 loss to Sweden, it escaped no-one’s notice that the three players to make way were Alou Diarra, Hatem Ben Arfa, and Nasri: all three were involved in the dressing-room bust-up after the defeat. Diarra and Nasri had exchanged words while Ben Arfa had challenged coach Laurent Blanc to send him home.
This was meant to be the tournament that turned Nasri into the star of Les Bleus. At Euro 2008, he had made two substitute appearances in (the second one, he was subbed off 15 minutes later to make way as Eric Abidal had been sent off) and since then he has played at Arsenal, where he was a regular in the Champions League, and has won the Premier League title with Manchester City.
His comments before the competition suggested he was on the verge of something special. “My profile has changed: I am mentally tougher, I manage situations better and I can handle the pressure better, playing in such a big competition,” he told France Football.
In SportStyle magazine, he was interviewed by ex-girlfriend Tatiana Golovin, who asked him for his motto in life. “Treat others as you would like to be treated yourself,” he said. The 1987 Generation helped France win the Under-17 European Championship in 2004, but now may not get the chance to help the senior team in 2014. “We are a strong group but we have yet to gain experience,” Nasri had said. “It is still too early to make us leaders. Having talent is good, but it’s not enough. You cannot buy experience.”
But this row is not about experience. It is partly about image: France’s sponsors were so furious at this latest bout of poor behaviour that it has threatened to withhold a €600,000 payment, while Nasri, reported L’Equipe, is “obsessed with his image… which has now plunged into the abyss”.
But it’s also about attitude, and how this generation of players have become so entitled. “This lot are just schoolyard bullies, aggressive and rude,” said former international Jean-Michel Larque on RMC Radio.
Liberation newspaper wrote that Ben Arfa, Nasri and Jeremy Menez had shown a bad attitude throughout the day of the Spain game. French FA’s general manager Marino Faccioli was furious that Ben Arfa was talking to his agent in the stands for over half an hour before the game; while Menez also upset the hierarchy by trying to stand on a rolling ball and salute during the warm-up. As the team toiled to a 2-0 loss, M’Vila showed dissent to Blanc when he was substituted off, and Menez swore and made an offensive gesture at captain Hugo Lloris mid-match. “Les Bleus have made enormous efforts during this Euro, on and off the pitch, to remove the spectre of Knysna from the group. But on Saturday, in Donetsk, Menez and Nasri tried everything to remind them of it,” wrote Liberation.
Everyone has had their say on this matter, and the situation is not as clear-cut as it may seem. William Gallas, who has more reason than most to stick the boot in on Nasri (the pair don’t talk after Gallas wrote in his book how Nasri had undermined the senior players at Euro 2008 by sitting in Thierry Henry’s seat on the team bus – pathetic, really), suggested that young players are fast-tracked too quickly for club and country, and big teams “accept their every whim”, so the youngsters lose perspective. “I remember when you had to wait your turn patiently for France, even if you were talented. Today, the coaches immediately give them the keys to side.”
Sports psychologist Jean-Cyrille Lecoq suggested that Nasri was suffering under the weight of the ‘new Zidane’ expectations. “He is a possible successor so sees himself as indispensable,” he said. “He is trying too hard to do well, which in itself causes tension.”
Simon Kuper, author of Soccernomics, suggested the fault lay with Blanc and not Nasri. “If there is a Nasri problem, then it’s Blanc’s fault, not Nasri’s,” he told French paper 20 Minutes. “Any coach can get the best out of a top professional like Lilian Thuram, but the very best coaches are the ones who can get the best out of those players who are harder to manage, like Nasri and Ben Arfa.” Kuper used the example of Romario, who never turned up to training when Guus Hiddink was coach of PSV Eindhoven. Yet when the games came along, Romario always played brilliantly, as his record of 98 in 109 games shows.
Nasri has expressed his regret for the situation, and in a tweet published on Wednesday, repeated his love of playing for France. He stopped short of apologising, though, which is significant. “Everything else was down to a personal matter between certain journalists and me. I’ll explain myself when the time comes.” He appears sorry to find himself in this situation, but not sorry for what he said.
And yet are we making too much of this anyway? As his former Arsenal team-mate Mikael Silvestre told BeInSport: “He’ll know he’s harmed his image and has made a mistake, but this is basically an individual row between him and a journalist, he’s not insulted a team-mate or coach – that’s why I think a two-year ban would be over the top.”
Rather than following Zidane’s footsteps (there are similarities with his Algerian background and Marseille years), at the moment Nasri is on course to become more like another French playmaker who found success in Manchester. Eric Cantona famously said, “I piss along the line of you journalists,” – and he wasn’t banned for that. Nasri has a long way to go before he becomes the new Cantona, but he is getting closer to it. Maybe off the pitch rather than on it, but it’s a start.