By Jay Jaffa
If Samir Nasri set out to usurp Mario Balotelli as Manchester City's enfant terrible at the beginning of the season, you have to take your hat off to him. Even at 25, it seems perfectly appropriate to label the Frenchman from Marseille a child, such are the petulant acts that repeatedly get him in trouble.
On Saturday afternoon, as the rest of his team raced around Carrow Road conjuring the kind of football that won them the Premier League last year, the Frenchman – who had only just returned to the starting XI – imploded and was forced to abandon their quest for a much-needed three points.
Mike Jones dished out the red card for what his linesman deemed violent conduct after Nasri leapt to his feet following a bone-crunching tackle from Sebastian Bassong. It was the sort of challenge football can barely find room for these days and were it not perfectly timed, the Norwich centre-back may have walked too.
He didn't, but even if he was red-carded, Nasri would have been marching down the Carrow Road tunnel with him, such was the stupidity of his reaction. He fell heavily (it really was a tackle to shake your soul), rolled on the ground for a few seconds, before jumping to his feet and angrily shoving his forehead into Bassong's. There was a hint of a butt, but no hurtful intent – Nasri's genuinely not that type, he's more the type to turn his back in a wall than take it full in the face – and that was it.
It wasn't the worst act of violence on a football field we will ever see, but he gave the officials an opportunity to brandish a red card in front of a raucous home crowd baying for blood.
Fortunately City never relinquished the lead they had earned when Nasri walked. Sergio Aguero put in his best display in a sky blue shirt this campaign and was well supported by Yaya Toure, David Silva and Edin Dzeko.
Ultimately Mancini will be relieved that his side returned to Manchester with three points, carrying the renewed belief that could catalyse the comeback required to overhaul United's seven-point lead.
But it should not detract from the juvenile actions of Nasri. The midfielder is one of a number of City players who appear to put their careers before those of their team-mates. For every Vincent Kompany, a model professional and inspirational leader, there is a Balotelli. For every Aguero, a diligent, spirited footballer, there is a Nasri, a Carlos Tevez (though he has since redeemed himself) and a Joleon Lescott.
For a title-winning team there are too many egos, too many stars looking to shine alone.
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There were rumours of his poor attitude when he was part of a young and vibrant Marseille side. At Arsenal he wowed audiences and took to the Premier League and Arsene Wenger's blueprint as impressively as Santi Cazorla has this season. Then came the clockwork departure Gunners fans have grown to loathe as he moved north to Manchester, a city far less welcoming than the lights of London.
Perhaps it is the millions he earns that has given him the sense of entitlement that seeps out of every facial expression and flash of temper. They say champions must be born winners, they must hate losing, but there has always been a line and Nasri has constantly crossed it.
Take for example the melodrama of France's failed Euro 2012 campaign that led to Hatem Ben Arfa, Yann M'Vila and Jeremy Menez join Nasri in front of a disciplinary panel. City's midfielder was not only part of a fractious and rebellious clique in Laurent Blanc's squad but he was almost dealt a two-year ban after offering to fight a journalist who riled him with a disparaging remark.
Nasri is in danger of becoming the next Emmanuel Adebayor - a renegade whose value to the team diminished with every mistake. Some say the now-Tottenham man was misunderstood, but that is neither here nor there – under Mancini he was shunned for a perceived lack of commitment to the team. It was a similar story with Roque Santa Cruz, Stephen Ireland and Wayne Bridge: overpaid players happy to collect their wage and not contribute to the collective.
Many will wonder why Balotelli is not in the same boat, but it is hardly a secret that Mancini accommodates and nurses his protege. That will not change, even if he has been exiled from the squad for the Christmas schedule.
Nasri has never been one to endear himself to supporters and his smug declaration that “no-one can question me now,” after he got his hands on the Premier League trophy fulfilled that assertion.
The wave of discontent is building. Mancini may have acquitted the Frenchman of blame as he pointed the finger at the officials in the wake of the 4-3 win, but privately he will be disappointed with the impetuosity of his actions.
For whatever reason the 48-year-old has begun the process of ostracising Lescott, with Aleksander Kolarov seemingly not far behind. Nasri must show that he has the courage and maturity to come through his latest setback and re-establish himself as a dependable member of City's first-team, or else risk being dumped on the scrapheap too.
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