His manager once wanted to punch him and, looking back, Samir Nasri could understand why. He described last season as one from which he bled “from deep inside”. Now, however, the wounds are healing.
Roberto Mancini, the man who threatened to lay Nasri out flat, was never one for throwing an arm around anyone’s shoulder. Had he remained at Manchester City, it is unlikely one of the Premier League’s most gifted midfielders would be at the Etihad Stadium preparing for his 100th game for the club, against Viktoria Plzen on Wednesday.
Depression and stress well up in all sportsmen, not just cricketers. For Nasri it came to the surface in the bowels of the Donbass Arena in Ukraine after France had lost their Euro 2012 quarter-final to Spain. A journalist asked him for a quote. Nasri told him he was “looking for shit, looking for trouble.” Then he drowned out the conversation with a cannon-fire of expletives.
It took him a year to win back his place in the France squad and when he returned to Ukraine for the World Cup play-offs this month, he was given 3/10 by the renowned French sports paper, L’Equipe. It was the same mark they had given Laurent Koscielny, who had been sent off.
This time, however, Nasri could take it. At the Etihad, his game had blossomed once more. As Newcastle, Manchester United, Norwich and then Tottenham were swept away, the partnership with David Silva appeared everything it once promised to be. In Manuel Pellegrini he has a manager whom he described as “a father figure” in a way Arsene Wenger once was.
During his lost season he found it hard to talk to his real parents. When he scored the equaliser against England, his father, Abdelhamid, rebuked him for putting his fingers to his lips while looking at the press box in Donetsk. “Tactless” he called it.
“I wasn’t feeling myself,” said Nasri. “After the European Championship and the beef with the French journalists, I refused to speak to anybody for months and had a lot of bad press in France.
“It was a little difficult. In my head I wasn’t the same. I didn’t play well for Manchester City and lost my spot in the squad. At the end of the year, I looked at my season and realised I was not myself.
“Keeping things to yourself is never good so I decided to talk to the people I love and decided to smile and be happy and do what I do best - play football. I spoke to my parents, my agent; the people that matter. Before, I had refused to speak to them because it was really difficult and it was all inside me.
“So, you spend your time thinking. Sometimes, when you make mistakes, you don’t want to admit it. That was my biggest mistake. As a player, as a person, I grew up a lot. I am not looking for another incident like this to grow up again but I know my mistakes now and I know what to do to make it right.”
He can smile now at Mancini’s comments. “It was just a word. Managers have different ways of working. Some like to say things in the press to make their players react and some like to say things face to face. Some players see things in the press, it touches their ego and they react.
“Last year I just wasn’t in a good place. Everything he was saying was difficult for me to accept. It wasn’t his fault, it was just me.”
One of Nasri’s regrets was the way he left Arsenal. Had he not done so, he would not have won a championship but he wished there had been more time to talk things through with Wenger. Now that Arsenal look once more to be a force in the Premier League what really does he think?
“Good for them,” comes with the smile. “I am happy for the players and the manager because he is a good person. But it’s just the start of the season. I am looking to be on top of them at the end of the year. I want to be a champion.”