By Robin Bairner
Samir Nasri's exclusion from France's 30-man preliminary World Cup squad may come as a surprise to fans of the Premier League, who have seen the Manchester City midfielder excel over the past three months.
For followers of the French game, however, who watched Deschamps name his squad on prime-time TV, this embarrassing oversight comes as little shock.
Even as the 26-year-old scored the opening goal as Manuel Pellegrini’s side defeated West Ham 2-0 on a rain-soaked Sunday afternoon to essentially secure his team the Premier League title, he was aware that no matter how stellar his performance, Didier Deschamps was bound to overlook him.
It was an eventuality even predicted by the player himself when he said earlier this week: “I'll watch the World Cup on TV.
“If starting games in a club like Manchester City and winning two titles isn't enough, too bad, I won't regret anything.”
The former Olympique de Marseille and Arsenal star has not been judged on his footballing ability – that would unquestionably see him heading to Brazil bedecked in the dark blue of his national side – he has been omitted because he is perceived to be a troublemaker.
In the mind of Deschamps, who has not selected the Marseille-born player since he started the 2-0 playoff loss to Ukraine in November, another high-profile squad bust up in the France ranks cannot be risked.
Since the days of Raymond Domenech and the Knysna strike of the 2010 World Cup, in which the players staged a sit-in on their bus and refused point-blank to train for the eccentric coach, a wound has festered between the national team and the French public, disgusted by what is perceived to be the behaviour of spoilt-brat footballers.
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After the match the team were finally greeted like heroes by the Paris crowd, but equally telling was the way the squad bonded with the supporters; finally, it seems, France is fighting together as a united force.
Nasri, of course, had been dropped from the scene by this stage, having failed to convince Deschamps that his attitude and performances while with the national side were sufficient. It is the question of mentality and not quality that has dogged Nasri’s career since departing Marseille for Arsenal in 2008, and it has been particularly prevalent with regards to the national side.
He was not, however, a member of those South African rebels, many of whom have been forever tarnished in the eyes of the French public, with Jeremy Toulalan never having played for les Bleus since, despite being arguably their most consistent midfield performer.
For all his qualities, though, Toulalan does not cut the dashing presence of Nasri, whose form for England’s champions has earned him more recognition and additional lives with the national side.
As far back as Euro 2008, the young midfielder was considered to lack respect for the squad’s senior members, allegedly refusing to move out of Thierry Henry’s seat in the team bus and beginning a long-running feud with Arsenal club-mate William Gallas.
When overlooked by Domenech for the World Cup 2010 squad, Nasri later claimed in an interview with the Daily Mail: “It helped me as a person. I told myself I need to work harder, to make sure I don’t miss the next one.
“You have to be in the national team. I need to make sure I don’t miss out because of something I’ve done.”
Under Blanc, Nasri was reported to be the chief disruptive influence as France nosedived out of Euro 2012 remarkably tamely against Spain. Deschamps offered the Manchester City man an olive branch that was never forthcoming to Toulalan, yet it has not been grasped with more rumours that he was disruptive during the Ukraine playoff.
Nasri, it seems, has not learned his lesson and will again suffer the ultimate punishment. He will be 30 by the time the next World Cup begins, and by that stage it may be too late for the midfielder to accomplish his dream of playing on football’s greatest stage.
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