Forget Mario Balotelli and the Anfield away dressing room door. The lesser noticed, though far more significant, expression of anger in the course of Manchester City's fiery afternoon at Anfield on Sunday was Samir Nasri's. It was difficult to discern whether the expletives he mouthed in his native French were for his manager or himself but they were unmistakable. "Sa mere, sa mere," Nasri said, several times over, when his number was held up after a mere 65 minutes. There is no direct translation of the expression in this context, though they are words of deep frustration.
This sums up how the autumn has turned out to be for 24-year-old Nasri, who had always looked like the one of City's two summer signings from Arsenal destined never to look back. Instead, Gaël Clichy has been the man renewed in a period of conflicting fortunes for the two Frenchmen, who are back in north London as their old and new clubs rejoin battle in the Carling Cup quarter-final this evening.
Clichy somehow felt like an afterthought when, for a sum of £7m, he was stolen from under Liverpool's noses in July and hardly mourned by Wenger. Nasri, though, was courted so fastidiously – Mancini's eulogies depicting him as the "final piece in the jigsaw" – that he felt sure to be the key to his new club's development. "Pure indiscretion... absolutely out of order," raged Wenger after Mancini had ventured to discuss publicly the player Arsenal were so desperate to keep.
Nasri's price turned out to be nearly four times that of Clichy, though the job of repaying that £24.4m is not exactly under way. His parting gift to Wenger was a scintillating performance against Liverpool, on 20 August, though Kenny Dalglish need not have feared the same player, second time around, on Sunday. Nasri's supine display rather told the story of his season: six Premier League starts, a mere 14 minutes in the symbolic 6-1 win at Old Trafford and an emerging sense that when Mancini picks his first XI that Nasri's name will not be in it.
Very early days, but he does fit a pattern in which the migration up the M6 has not been as happy as Wenger's players assumed it would be. Neither Emmanuel Adebayor nor Kolo Touré have found the success they would have wanted at City.
What Nasri really didn't bargain for was the competition he has faced from David Silva, the finest player of this Premier League campaign to date, and James Milner, City's most improved player on last season and, Silva aside, their best. It has perhaps not entirely helped that Manchester United was the club where Nasri really wanted to be.
Clichy's story has been a very different one. The left-back, who is two years Nasri's senior, has certainly found Mancini's squad rotations slightly frustrating. "As a player you always want to play, it's a big difference for me because at Arsenal I was used to playing week in week out," he said yesterday. Yet he clearly is Mancini's first choice and though dependability, rather than invincibility, best describes him, he is in his best period of form for several years.Reuse content