When Samir Nasri joined Manchester City from Arsenal in 2011, the £24 million ($34.4m) signing committed the biggest faux-pas a professional footballer can make: he criticised his former club’s fans.
“The City supporters are really passionate and it reminds me of [playing for] Marseille,” the Frenchman enthused.
“Arsenal have good fans but they are not that passionate since they moved from Highbury to the Emirates.
“The crowd at City are amazing and that’s what you want as a player – a good atmosphere.”
While those comments immediately endeared him to the Etihad faithful, they only further enraged Arsenal fans already upset by the loss of a key player to a Premier League rival.
Indeed, Gunners supporters believed that Nasri had joined City for purely financial reasons. Still, the attacking midfielder’s move also paid off in a sporting sense, with Nasri winning the Premier League twice in Manchester, in 2011-12 and 2013-14.
However, Pep Guardiola’s arrival in 2016 effectively spelled the end of his time at the Etihad and, after a season-long loan at Sevilla, Nasri eventually departed in 2017, joining Antalyaspor in 2017.
Things did not go well for him in Turkey, Nasri terminating his contract with his new employers after just six months, at a time when he was the subject of a UEFA investigation into his alleged use of an intravenous drip at a Los Angeles clinic in December 2016.
Nasri was eventually found to have breached World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) rules and was banned from the game for six months. However, the suspension was increased by an additional 12 months in August 2018, albeit backdated until July 1, 2017.
The bottom line was that Nasri was sidelined until the end of last year. However, with his ban having expired on December 31, he promptly signed a short-term contract with West Ham, thus reuniting him with his former City boss Manuel Pellegrini.
Given he’s still only 31, Nasri admits that he is “lucky to have a second chance” in football and is now hoping to make the most of it.
And, in a delicious twist of fate, after making his Hammers debut in the FA Cup win over Birmingham at the weekend, he is now set to make his Premier League return against Arsenal on Saturday.
On the plus side for Nasri, the game isn’t at the Emirates, where irate Arsenal fans once unfurled a banner insulting him in his native French, but he will be doubtless the subject of much vitriol from the away section at London Stadium.
While such abuse can never be condoned, it is easy to understand why Arsenal fans were so hurt by Nasri’s defection.
After all, when he left in August 2011, the then 24-year-old was coming off the back of his best season of his career, having netted 15 goals to earn himself a place in the PFA Team of the Year alongside Vincent Kompany, Carlos Tevez, Ashley Cole and Gareth Bale.
Nasri appeared perfectly poised to fully justify his nickname ‘The Little Zidane’, which he had picked up in Marseille.
Certainly, there were some similarities: the Algerian ancestry, the perfect balance and ability to slice through defences with ease became a trademark of Nasri’s, while his character was strengthened by an upbringing on a tough estate in France which made him a surprisingly aggressive player on the pitch.
He was also ambitious, though, so when City came calling, it was a no-brainer as far as he was concerned.
“Manchester City were a better team – that’s why I went there. It was my ambition, not because of the money,” Nasri told Goal in 2016.
“Whether you’re a fan or not, people should understand that if a bigger company calls you, if you’re ambitious, you’re going to go there.
“I had so much love for this club [Arsenal] because the fans were amazing towards me. But then, after when I saw all of that [Arsenal fans’ anger towards him], I became a little hateful because I was like ‘Come on, why are they doing this? I haven’t done anything wrong.’
“So, it became this bad relationship, from love to hate.
“It’s a bit sad because I spent three amazing years [at Arsenal]. They brought me from Marseille and Arsene Wenger was like a father figure to me; he did everything for me.
“I’m still on really good terms with him but it’s sad to have this relationship now with the club.”
Sad as it may be, some relationships can never be fixed and while a lot of time has passed, many Arsenal fans have never forgiven Nasri for leaving for City.
As Arsenal fans get ready for this weekend’s short trip to the London Stadium, memories of ‘The little Zidane’ and their acrimonious break-up will doubtless come flooding back – and they will certainly be keen to remind him of just how “passionate” they can be.