Speaking in an exclusive interview with Canal + ex-Manchester City man Samir Nasri discussed his recent move to Turkey with Antalyaspor, the French national team, his other options this summer and much more.
You are 30 years old and have just come off a great season with Sevilla. It is a big surprise to see you here in Antalya.
I am very happy to have made this choice. I played 13 seasons at the highest level. But I also needed to cut everything off, and go elsewhere. Before coming here, I had never seen a country with this much passion, even though Antalya is a calm city, unlike Istanbul. Upon arrival, the passion that I saw when playing was something that I had never experienced before. For my first away game, the opposition fans were chanting my name, and I had to go to their end to thank them. The country lives for football!
What were your other options?
There were brief talks with Marseille, Lyon, AC Milan… There was also Besiktas, Galatasaray, and Antalya. For me, things were finalised quite naturally. The project that the president is looking to put in place is very, very ambitious, and having Jérémy (Ménez) with whom I could talk to was also quite reassuring. (laughing) He was almost like my agent! He called me every day, and was very insistent!
Jérémy Ménez also tried to convince Hatem Ben Arfa, the third gem of the 87 generation, to join.
It is too bad that he could not come, but why not next season? He will be on a free. If he is listening…. (laughing)
Do you understand that Ben Arfa preferred not to play instead of signing here?
No, I do not. The same goes for any footballer. The offers, after barely playing during his debut season with PSG and his second season, are not the same. People obviously move on, and the demand is not the same. When you are a footballer, and you love that, you need to play. Personally, I would never be satisfied with being on the bench or playing in the reserves.
But I can also understand Hatem. PSG could have made an effort. If only to give him half a year so that he could leave so that all parties are happy. Let’s not forget that this was a whim from the PSG board last season, so an effort should have been made. When you can pay 220 million or 180 million euros for a player, you can also give Hatem Ben Arfa half-a-year, it will not cost them anything.
Did PSG ever try to sign you?
There were discussion between us once… Twice actually! The first time when Leonardo spoke with Arsène Wenger, which he would have preferred. He would have preferred that I go to France, rather than to City or United. But I said no, because I wanted either City or United. The second time was when Laurent Blanc was PSG coach. It was the year they brought in Cabaye. In the end, I stayed in Manchester City, where we were crowned champions, and where I was a starter.
How do you feel about the French national team? Are you a fan, are you indifferent?
I watch their games. As a fan. I’m French so obviously…
When we know how talented a player you are, and we see your career with the French national team, is there a feeling of it being a waste?
The hazards of football… There are certain circumstances in the world of football. Relationships are also really important. The player-manager compatibility too. When a coach lets you take charge on the field, or constantly puts you into question or is not fair with you, it can be felt on the pitch. Do I regret anything with the French national team; yes and no. Yes, because with my talent I could have achieved a lot more. The same could be said about my career in general.
Could I have done better? Probably, yes. Actually, most certainly, because at certain times in my career I was not as professional as I could have been. Not on the pitch or in training, I was always professional there. But maybe my lifestyle choices were not as perfect as they could have been. Maybe then, my performances would have allowed me to reach the next level, because the talent, I most definitely had it.
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Your relationship with Didier Deschamps was a stormy one. How do you explain it?
I have difficulty with people who are not entirely honest or frank. I got along well with him, when he was not even the national team coach yet. He called me during Euro 2012, when he was not the coach, even though he was going to become it.
He gave me advice after I had insulted the journalist or celebrated my goal. I also saw him in Marseille two years earlier, when I was receiving treatment. I had a good relationship with him.
And then afterwards, I could not accept that he would say one thing, and then after my three game suspension, that he did not take the time to call me… I do not play for Lorient or Orleans, I play at Manchester City and I’m a starter, so he could have given me a phone call. Especially when he travels to talk with other players to tell them that they are or are not being called up.
Even if we have the same agent, I could not care less if he called Jean-Pierre Bernes, I would have preferred for you to contact me and have a talk between ourselves. He could have told me he was not calling me up for whatever reason or that he does not count on me, so that I could have peace of mind, rather than not see my name on the list. I found that a bit insulting, because I was used to getting phone calls or having discussions with him when he was not my coach. But now that he is coach, and he was not calling me, I found that insulting.
It is very rare to have an interview with a player who speaks his mind, who is unfiltered. Do you think that your character may have played you?
Certainly. Football is a hypocrite’s world. But I can look at myself in the mirror. I know that I remain dignified, that I remained myself. Some may say that I am arrogant or that I have my pride, but I am frank. If you like me, that’s alright, if you do not like me that’s alright too. But at least you know what to take from it. I ask the same thing from people, because I do not like the superego part of football. I used to be like that, and thought that everything was all perfect, when it is not. I came out disappointed, so from that point onwards…
During my last year at Marseille, I was in the hospital for 12 days with meningitis, and I saw the actual side of people. I saw those who were there for me when everything was going well, when I was Marseille’s little prince, when I had played the season where I became an international. People were behind me then, but when I was sick for 12 days, with meningitis about to die, no one was there. I noticed how things really were.
I also noticed it with journalists. I used to talk to them very often, I received the prix orange or prix citron or whatever it is called. After that, people said I became arrogant, he did this, he did that…
Even after leaving Arsenal, I signed for Manchester City, I earned a lot of money, the transfer fee was floating around, I was called a mercenary. When it is me, I am a mercenary, but when it is another player, he is not.
I started to notice how things really were, so from then, I changed and decided to become who I am now – frank, unfiltered, saying it as I see it. If you like it, then great, if you do not, too bad.
Considering your history with Les Bleus, would you have preferred to play for the Algerian National team?
It is too easy to say something like that, no. I entered the French national team at the age of 19. The Algerian national team was the Gobi Desert at the time! So no, I am proud to have played for the French national team. When I arrived in 2007, the French national team had just lost the 2006 World Cup Final.
It was an extraordinary team. When I arrived, there was Thuram, Gallas (even if we’re not friends), Abidal, Evra, Makelele, Vieira, Henry, Trezeguet, Anelka. You’d be crazy to turn down such a call up! Plus I was only 19. It was not at all a regret. My story with the French national team was the one that was meant to happen, that’s all! I had a part of responsibility, so did others. Things also changed, with less tolerance towards footballers, of which I was a victim, but that’s life.
Amongst the fantastic four from the 1987 generation, Karim Benzema ultimately had the best career.
Playing for 9-10 years in Real Madrid, while having beaten any competitors (for his position), with six different coaches, has to be recognised. You can only salute that. I feel bad for him because he really wants to play for the French national team again, and currently,
I think it is unfair what’s happening to him. He has said how much he wants to play in the World Cup, and I think it would be dumb to do without him. When you see Mbappé’s rise, you could have a partnership between the two. You could add Ousmane Dembele, Griezmann… It’d be incredibly stupid to do without him.
Why do you think he’s in the middle of the storm? He spoke about his –
His origins? It is obvious because I have been in the same position. Hatem too. I’m sorry, but following his season with Nice, Hatem had to be at the Euros. Perhaps he had problems in the past with Deschamps, but so did Gignac, and Gignac competed in the Euros.
Admittedly, he (Benzema) made some unfortunate statements in Marca. But following that, there were the tags on Deschamps’ house, and because of that, Benzema would not be forgiven. It is not about sporting worth, it is impossible. Normally, a coach should take the best players or the players that will make him win. And currently, it is impossible to say that a team with Benzema is weaker than a team without him. It is impossible.
Was there a pervasive racial basis that played a part?
For me, yes. If we listen to what Noel Le Graet said, he is open to his return. If Mathieu Valbuena were still in the picture, and he were selected in the national team without Karim Benzema, then sure, I could maybe understand, because the problem is between the two of them, and a choice had to be made. But currently, Mathieu Valbuena is not in the picture anymore. Why wouldn’t Karim Benzema return?