Gilles Grimandi profiles Manchester City's Samir Nasri
Nasri scored 27 goals in 145 appearances for Arsenal
By David Ornstein
Samir Nasri's £25 move from Arsenal to Manchester City sees City aquire one of the most exciting midfielders in Europe.
The 24-year-old Frenchman scored 27 goals in 125 appearances for the Gunners and was arguably the Premier League's best player in the first half of last season.
One man who played a key role in bringing Nasri to England in 2008 was Gilles Grimandi, Arsenal's chief scout in France.
In a wide-ranging interview with BBC Sport in March, Grimandi gave a fascinating insight into a player he says has "everything it takes to become the best player in the world."
WHAT WAS IT ABOUT NASRI THAT CAUGHT YOUR EYE?
"In France we had a special age group born in 1987, with Nasri, Karim Benzema, Hatem Ben Arfa, Loic Remy and Jeremy Menez. All of these players were special talents and
they won the Under-17 European Championship
so everyone knew them for a long, long time. It was the best group of young players we had for maybe 20 years.
"Everyone was interested to see how they all developed.
SUCCESSFUL PASSES IN FINAL THIRD (2010-11 PL SEASON)
Nasri - 601
Malouda - 593
Fabregas - 548
Silva - 530
Modric - 528
Wilshere - 527
Arteta - 499
K Davies - 499
Murphy - 483
Adam - 465
"All five of them had immense talent and when they played together for France at age group level it was near-impossible to say who was the best. If you showed them to five different scouts when they were 16 each would have picked a different player.
"But Samir always had something that set him apart from the rest - an unbelievable love of football. You might think every player loves football but not like this. Samir is a student of football - he lives for the game. He loves training and watches game after game on TV.
"He uses things he has seen to help correct mistakes in his own game. When you genuinely love football this is what makes the difference.
"And he has one more ability. He is very, very intelligent. I remember he had one bad season at Marseilles - he kept getting injured and ill - but every time he had a great reaction because he lives for football. He does everything he can to be the best, he's confident in his ability and he has a very strong personality."
WHEN DID YOU FIRST NOTICE HIS INTELLIGENCE?
"I had never spoken to him before he signed but you could just smell his intelligence. It was obvious from the way he played and the way his spoke in interviews on TV after games. The way he has managed his career and made decisions is very impressive. He knows where he wants to go, he's focused on that and no-one can change his mind. Provided he's on the right track, which he always was, that is a wonderful quality.
"You have some players who are very, very good technically but don't understand the game. There's no point having those technical skills if you don't have the intelligence. If you have the technical quality, understand the game and are good physically, you have everything to be a top class player.
"Intelligence is a very important factor when we look at signing a player. We want intelligent players and in our team at present we have a very high level of intelligence."
WHAT WAS HE LIKE GROWING UP?
"People don't realise how difficult it is to grow up as a footballer in Marseilles when you come from the city. Everyone knew him by the time he was 12 or 13, so he had to deal with unbelievable expectation.
Grimandi made 171 appearances for Arsenal between 1997-2002
"After every game the fans would come up to him and analyse his performance. Big, big pressure. He was only young but he always reacted incredibly well. He said "OK, I'm Nasri, I'd better go and do my job". And he must have done it well because look where he is today.
"It's difficult for the parents too because every day, every minute, every hour you have to think about your kid.
"For me, he took the right decision every time. He said I want to play for Marseilles because I'm from Marseilles. Then I want to get to the first team and afterwards I'll go to the club I want to go to. He had a plan for his career and he knew how to get it."
WHEN DID WENGER BECOME INTERESTED?
"Arsene knew him well for a long time before signing him. He saw him play in the Under-17 European Championships and all he needed to hear from me was what I've told you. When you watch a player game after game like I do it's easy to have a special feeling.
"But when you only watch him once every three or four months it's a bit more difficult, so it was important for me to make sure Arsene knew about his intelligence, his character and his passion for football. These three things, allied to the talent he had, convinced me that he would be a successful signing.
"But the most important thing for Samir was meeting Arsene. It was Arsene who convinced Samir that he had everything it takes to become the best player in the world. He knew what he had, he knew everything, but when Arsene told him that 'you can be the best player, you can score, you can go as far as you want' that's the point at which he realised what he was capable of and where he needed to go to achieve that."
DID YOU HAVE ANY CONCERNS FOR NASRI?
"Physically, I knew he was a top class player but we were concerned over whether he was suited to English football.
NASRI - CAREER STATS
Born: 26 June 1987, Marseille
Height: 5ft 10in
Position: Attacking midfield
Marseille: 145 apps, 11 goals
Arsenal: 125 apps, 27 goals
France: 24 apps, 2 goals
"It was like
when Robert Pires came to Arsenal
- everyone said English football is not for Pires. When the game was very hard in France, Pires didn't like it and we wondered if it would be the same with Nasri.
"People thought Spain might be better for him. But as we're seeing now, England is perfect for him. He's developed his weakness in the challenge - now he's very strong in the challenge - and combine that with the talent and he has everything needed to be one of the best.
"At the end of the day when you have talent, you can play anywhere."
DID HE FIND IT HARD TO SETTLE IN HIS FIRST TWO SEASONS?
"Like every player it took a while to settle in and we knew he could do better. But he was still so young and step by step he has developed extremely well. In his first season his stats were good because he scored a few goals and also created a lot - but what pleased us was that his level of performance was improving. His second season was disrupted by injury but
he still showed what he was capable of
and this season his natural progression has continued."
He was included in the PFA Team of the Year for 2010-11
That's helped him become what he is now. And that's why it's so important to make the right choice with the club you go to - you need the right manager at the right time.
"He's a fantastic athlete, he's quick, flexible and good with his feet. He's been here for three years so he has developed and he's certainly not the player he was in Marseilles. The work he has put in plus his talent makes him what he is now but we knew that he had fantastic physical attributes. The only thing we weren't sure of was whether he could settle in English football. But it has worked."
WHAT IS IT WITH SMALLER PLAYERS AT THE MOMENT?
"First of all, most of these players - Cesc Fabregas, Nasri, Lionel Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta - are very intelligent. That's important in modern football because the game is very tight now. If you don't think about what you're going to do with the ball when it arrives and if you don't have the feet and technical ability to do it, you won't survive. The players who are small can play in a short space, they play at the right tempo, they go to the right places, they make the right decisions. They are the best and they will survive.
"If you physically dominate the game OK - but your limit will come. Physicality is not enough any more because nowadays every team is ready for the physical challenge, they prepare well. Look at the cup competitions - they are now very competitive. Why? Because today every club is physically ready. If you want to survive in modern football you have to be technically good and very intelligent."
DOES HE HAVE A BEST POSITION?
"I don't know, he can play everywhere. It's not about his position, what's important is the players who play around him.
"He can play on the right, on the left, behind the striker and sometimes even a bit deeper. You could put him in his best position but if he was in a team that just tried to play long balls he would feel uncomfortable."
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