A few months ago a video emerged on the internet and Samir Nasri was its unassuming star.
Driving home from Manchester City’s 1-0 Carling Cup semi final first leg defeat against Liverpool, Nasri was implored to roll down his window and endure the taunts of the directing travelling supporters beside him.
"You f****** Arsenal reject,” snarled one, while another taunted his foolishness for swapping London for Manchester, believing while he was heading in one direction the trophies he left Arsenal to win were travelling down the M1 in the opposite direction.
While Nasri mustered a feeble and shocked response about being top of the league he had little to come back with.
An ineffectual substitute appearance that made little mark on the game seemed to sum up his time at the Etihad Stadium up to that point; £24 million hardly seemed fitting of a player that had all but carried Arsenal last season.
"I think that, in my opinion, Nasri is a champion. He's a top player but I think that he needs to do more. He can do more,“ Mancini said after he had been left out of the team that lost to Napoli in the Champions League earlier this season.
Fast forward to March and, well, not everything has changed but the tides are turning. Nasri’s match-winning contribution against Chelsea marked the height of City career to date as the title race entered the final sprint; something which says as much about where his career with the champions elect is going as it does about where it is coming from.
Unlucky not to have got on the scoresheet earlier - Nasri had previously hit the bar twice – the Frenchman injected some much needed pace into the game last night to burst through the Chelsea defence and score the winner; his relief was palpable as he rushed to celebrate his effort and incurred the ire of referee for taking off his shirt.
While it was Carlos Tevez’s inclusion and subsequent assist that garnered many of the headlines this morning, Nasri’s spirited performance deserves more than its fair share of the headlines.
Almost mustering that game's only moment of magic in the first half, Nasri produced a delectable lobbed effort that left Cech for dead but could only cannon off the crossbar.
Once the bar had been rattled once more he came to the fore, driving forward at the heart of Chelsea’s defence before gratefully receiving Tevez’s reverse pass to allow him a run at Cech and the chance to score the winning goal - it wasn’t an opportunity he passed up.
"Samir did well but he can do better," said Mancini after the game, keeping firmly in line with his usual policy of cautious praise for his players.
"He can improve. He is a top player. If he plays like this he can be like David Silva or Xavi if he plays."
While that lofty billing seems some way away Nasri has taken some tentative steps towards fulfilling his desinty as the ‘final piece of the puzzle’, a tag that has hung heavy around his neck at times following his 15 goals last season.
Worryingly for City some of the performers that took them to the brink of their first Premier League title appear to have gone off the boil at the wrong time.
While Nasri was able to illuminate the game at times it remained for large portions a ponderous affair.
Devoid of width and pace in equal measures Mario Balotelli’s performance was so lethargic Mancini was forced to haul the Italian off at half-time before later admitting he ‘didn’t like how he played’ and David Silva, also subbed in the second half, gave off the appearance of a man who had played more games than any other outfield player for City this season.
Sergio Aguero also cut a frustrated figure as his usual hustle and bustle went missing for large parts.
Luckily for Mancini when his big guns aren’t firing he has the squad to replace genuine world class quality with world class quality, and along with Nasri, Tevez stepped into the breach to fill the gaps and keep the pressure up on Manchester United just as they looked to be upping their pace in the dash for the final line.
Nasri’s emergence as a genuine match winner just as the games remaining in the Premier League moved into single digits will be music to Mancini’s ears.
The win over Chelsea from 1-0 down with under 20 minutes remaining offered a stark reminder that they hadn’t bottled it, as Peter Schmeichel kindly suggested earlier this month, and while others in City's side spent the evening dozing Nasri looked alive and in tune with his team-mates as he weaved through on goal.
Having waited so long for the real Samir Nasri to arrive, Mancini will know that he has another option to help him win games when his vast well has been sapped dry.
That is not to suggest Nasri reached the peaks he achieved with Arsenal as yet; his natural tendency to drift infield may have helped with the final goal but robbed City of any natural width for much of the game and his final ball at times lacked forethought.
Despite that,and the fact he may have waited a long time to get going, Nasri has demonstrated his true worth to his employers, and it could be invaluable come the final count in May.
He may not have proved he can do it consistently as yet, but now, if he is stopped by heckling fans again, he has plenty of ammunition to fight back with.
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