To begin, in the narrative mode preferred by the writers of Sex and the City: watching Manchester City begin another ‘big game’ without Samir Nasri (he remained on the bench throughout), I couldn’t help but wonder: is he actually any good?
The phrase, ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ is a stock phrase of football’s vernacular, wheeled out multiple times during each of Wayne Rooney’s regular goalless streaks. Yet the reverse, literally never heard, must also be true; if class is permanent, sometimes obscured by poor form, surely, too, crapness can be permanent even if occasionally elided by periodical quality.
There are anecdotal examples throughout football whose occasionally game-changing performances do not uplift them into the pantheon: Andy Reid and David Dunn can control Premiership games, but neither is going to replace Gareth Barry or Michael Carrick; Matty Etherington was superb against his former side on Sunday, but Tottenham with Bale and Lennon on the flanks are not going to lament his departure. So far, though, these are examples of players from a lower rung ‘playing above themselves’, a more interesting question is whether players at the top do the same: again, is Samir Nasri actually any good.
This time last year, of course he was, excellent. His two goals against Fulham on the 4th of December (praised here in defence of his, then notorious, accessory) concluded a scoring run of seven goals in eight games. At the start of that game he was awarded the Player of the Month Award for November, which he won again for December and at the end of the year he was named France Football Magazine’s Player of the Year for 2010 – though this award was at least partially explained by his absence from France’s World Cup embarrassment. He scored his fourteenth goal of the season in Arsenal’s 3-1 FA Cup Replay victory over Leeds United. To add context, 14 is two more than Nasri had managed in his two previous seasons at Arsenal combined. He only added one more, though, finishing the season with a simultaneously impressive and disappointing 15 goals in all competitions.
There are myriad reasons for this drop in form: Arsenal’s collective abandonment of form over the same period; the continuing absence of Cesc Fabregas; Nasri’s own hamstring troubles; the phenomenal goalscoring form of Robin van Persie. This last needs a little elucidation; perhaps Nasri replaced goals with assists over this period? He didn’t. He got five assists in the whole of 2010-11; which, to contextualise, is six fewer than the notoriously ‘wasteful’ Theo Walcott (who played 18 fewer games but also scored a comparable 13 goals) and a whopping 12 fewer than the even wastefuller Andrei Arshavin managed in the same season.
One reason, then, could be that Nasri is not actually quite as good as that period of undoubtedly good form suggests.
This is where Hollywood’s Halle Berry comes in. Berry became A-List after becoming, in 2001, the first (and, so far, only) African-American woman to win the Academy’s Best Actress Award (for her role in Marc Foster’s Monster’s Ball). Her filmography, though, makes peculiar reading. Monster’s Ball is preceded by Swordfish, a not terrible (but certainly not great) heist-thriller starring Hugh Jackman and John Travolta to which Berry’s principal contribution is her body, her appearances punctuated by states of partial nudity. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this, Berry can do whatever she likes, but it is not a route into the silver screen pantheon. Perhaps her later work is better? Not really, Monster’s Ball is followed in the Berry back-catalogue by an appearance as Jinx in what is, officially, the worst Bond film ever made (Die Another Day tops this list because Sean Connery’s Never Say Never Again is not an official Bond film, it is a terrible film entirely in its own right). Since then, Berry has carved something of a niche for herself as the go-to girl for superheroine roles (Gothika, Catwoman and the continuation of her role as Storm in the X-Men franchise).
Again, there is nothing wrong with this, except that typecasting – punctuated with periodical appearances in piss-poor pictures with aspirationally artsy titles, Frankie and Alice, and ham-fisted moral messages – does not to greatness lead. And yet, the impression of Halle Berry as a top actress remains.
There are many criteria for greatness, which is an unavoidably nebulous idea. Consistency, though, is undoubtedly one of these intangibles. Just as Halle Berry is an Academy Award winning actress who has looked like one only once (for the six months or so it took to film Monster’s Ball), Samir Nasri is a £25 Million player who has looked like one only once.