Samir Nasri career at Manchester City ends with shades of regret
Samir Nasri was the final cog in the machine for Roberto Mancini to turn Manchester City into Premier League winners. He was the Italian's final big signing of summer 2011, joining from Arsenal after weeks of to-ing and fro-ing, for a fee reported to be £24 million. In that debut season, he played a very important role in turning City into the top flight's best attacking force.
However, despite playing a large role in the club's 2012 and 2014 titles, the Frenchman leaves for Antalyaspor in danger of being a forgotten man. Having spent all of 2016-17 on loan at Sevilla, it was clear the 30-year-old wasn't in Pep Guardiola's thinking, even after playing a role in last summer's tour of the USA.
Reports suggest City recouped around £8m for the attacking midfielder, whose quality and experience should surely demand a higher fee and a move to a club of a much better standing than one that finished fifth in Turkey last season. But after a couple of years in the doldrums and the potential for a drugs ban on the horizon, it's hardly surprising the club weren't able to negotiate a better price and that no bigger hitters in European football were willing to take a punt on Nasri.
There's also the question of his attitude. Nasri has always been the outspoken sort, but reports emerged from City's preseason tour this summer that the midfielder was increasingly becoming an outcast in the squad, a disruptive presence that some players thought should have stayed at home.
It's a dramatic turnaround for the man who was badly missed after a long injury layoff during Manuel Pellegrini's final season.
Nasri's departure from City began with that unfortunate absence. He was left needing almost 100 stitches following an operation on his thigh muscle and he missed the majority of the 2015-16 campaign. By the time he returned in April, it had already been announced that Guardiola was to replace Pellegrini in the summer and the team were slowly grinding to a halt in the Premier League, just about stumbling over the line to finish in the top four.
Nasri was immediately on the back-foot with Guardiola, too. He'd been left out of the Catalan's second preseason match, a 1-1 draw with Borussia Dortmund, after reporting for duty overweight, and that put the pair's relationship under strain. Despite the manager wanting him to stay, Nasri moved on loan to Sevilla.
From that moment, the move this summer was almost inevitable. With Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling putting in excellent performances at the back end of 2016-17, coupled with David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne being the creative force behind either Sergio Aguero or Gabriel Jesus, there was now no room for Nasri in the team -- even though Nasri's quality on the ball is well suited to Guardiola's style of play.
It's difficult not to wonder what might have been for him at City. After being a key part of Mancini's title-winning team in 2011-12, Nasri had become the villain just six months later. Robin van Persie's last-minute free kick deflected off him and past Joe Hart in City's 3-2 home defeat to the eventual champions United in the Manchester derby and fans were ready to see the back of the midfielder. Instead of standing up to the shot, he'd hidden behind the rest of the man wall and half-heartedly stuck out a leg.
Perhaps it's telling that it's that moment he's most remembered for in his six years at the club, rather than his excellent skills on the ball or his important goals. He's scored some crackers -- the volley in the 3-1 win over Sunderland in the 2014 League Cup final, or his drive off the post in the 2-0 success at Roma spring to mind, or even the opener in the 2-0 victory at home to West Ham on the day City lifted the title for the second time in three seasons.
Despite all of that, he leaves the club with few really batting an eyelid. His near two-year absence through injury and a loan plays a part in that -- fans move on quickly, after all -- but Nasri never showed the consistency that others, such as Silva or Yaya Toure, did when named in the team.
It's been a chequered spell for the midfielder at City and his career appears to have stalled significantly, but supporters shouldn't forget the success he helped bring to the club. He'll probably never be held in the highest regard, but he played a part in a sizeable chunk of silverware heading to the Etihad.
However, if he's honest with himself, Nasri will probably be departing Manchester with a tinge of regret and a feeling of unfulfilled potential as well.
David Mooney is ESPN FC's Manchester City blogger. Twitter: @DavidMooney