"Sometimes you have to be patient with talented players," Laurent Blanc said after yesterday's 1-1 Group D draw with England. The "talented player" in question was Samir Nasri, and the France coach was feeling vindicated for having persevered with the gifted playmaker despite a number of subdued performances in the blue of his country.
Nasri's technique and ability have never been in question. But the Manchester City FC midfielder is still trying to make his mark at international level. Blanc has used Nasri in a variety of roles: in a midfield three, as a central attacking midfielder, on the left and, most recently, on the right. "That is his position with his club," Blanc pointed out. "Maybe he will be more comfortable there than in the middle."
In the last two preparation games, Nasri played on the right of the France attack and continued to have a limited impact. The French press had begun wondering – with increasing insistence – if Jérémy Menez, Hatem Ben Arfa or Mathieu Valbuena might not provide a more productive presence than the 24-year-old.
Blanc, though, has always stressed the importance of continuity. "If I question every player after every match I will end up changing the team all the time," he commented last week when asked if the excellent showings of Laurent Koscielny and Gaël Clichy in the friendlies could threaten the places of Philippe Mexès and Patrice Evra.
Players know when they have the full support of their coach and it invariably makes them try harder than ever to justify that faith. Mexès, Evra and, above all, Nasri justified Blanc's belief and patience in Donetsk. Nasri's display was not just about his goal – splendid though it was. He used the ball shrewdly, passing quickly and moving intelligently.
The way he combined with right-back Mathieu Debuchy was also encouraging. The talk in the build-up to the tournament was of Les Bleus' potency down the left, where Franck Ribéry, Karim Benzema and Florent Malouda have combined superbly of late. On Monday, however, the greater threat came from the other side.
Nasri's penchant for cutting inside and trying to thread passes through, created space for the marauding Debuchy to run in to. England's left-back Ashley Cole rarely got forward because he had his work cut out with Debuchy and Nasri. Suddenly the flank that some were describing as the team's weakness is looking like their strength. And France's loyal trainer deserves credit for that.
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