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Radja Nainggolan has become one of the most coveted midfielders in the world. His recent move to Inter Milan was seen as the bargain of last summer’s transfer window, as the Nerazzurri got a hold of his services for just €24 million plus Davide Santon and Nicolo Zaniolo. Many expected Nainggolan to make a big money move to the Premier League, but Inter’s project tempted him to remain in the Serie A.
The Belgian midfielder has earned himself a reputation as a tough guy. His ability to break attacks anywhere on the pitch is second to none – to the point where he’s even known for his famous “Nainggolan Tackle”, a move he uses to get the ball back from an escaping attacker. His dynamic movement, passing and goalscoring skills make him one of the best midfielders in world football.
The life of Radja Nainggolan
Many football fans criticize his aggressiveness on the pitch, but his attitude clearly reflects the way he was raised. Nainggolan was born in a refugee camp in Antwerp, Belgium and grew up in a very tough neighbourhood. He learned to play football on a small pitch, made entirely out of concrete, where all sorts of aggressive tackles were made.
His father fled the house when Nainggolan was just a little boy, leaving Radja, his siblings and his mother to fend for themselves. His father did leave something behind, though: a huge and almost unpayable debt. Although Radja and his family managed to survive, their life was filled with financial problems and poverty.
Nevertheless, Radja and his twin sister, Riana Nainggolan, always had a talent for football. In fact, both played for AS Roma at some point in their careers. Radja got involved in the football at age 13 when he joined the academy of an Antwerp club called Germinal Beerschot.
Moving to Italy
An Italian scout spotted him while playing in Belgium and Nainggolan moved to Italy in 2005, signing with Serie B club Piacenza. He outshined his teammates in the 2008/2009 campaign, helping his side avoid relegation to Serie C and catching the eye of the Serie A team Cagliari. Although he was loaned to Cagliari at first, the Serie A team exercised an option to buy that was included in the loan deal.
Cagliari fans fell in love with Nainggolan’s style of play. To this day, the Sardinians still consider him one of the best players to ever wear their team’s shirt. Oddly enough, he only became a regular at first because starting midfielder Daniele Conti was injured. He managed to make the starting position his own and went on to become a star in the Serie A.
Turning into a star
By 2014, Nainggolan was a well-known midfielder in Italian football. His performances with Cagliari had caught the attention of AS Roma, who managed to purchase the entirety of his ownership rights for €9 million. From then on, the rest is history. Nainggolan’s performances kept improving and he built himself a reputation as one of the best midfielders in Italy.
His time at Roma made him a strong Juventus hater. He has always ill-spoken publicly about the Bianconeri, claiming he “absolutely hates Juventus”. Beating Juve has always been one of the most joyful things inside a football pitch for Radja Nainggolan.
In the summer transfer window of the 2018/2019 campaign, Radja surprised many fans by moving to Inter Milan. The Nerazzurri had already started an ambitious project to get back to the top of Italian football, and Nainggolan was seen as a key addition to the project. He recently scored for Inter in the Champions League, making him the first Belgian player to do so.
Radja, the person behind the footballer
Nainggolan’s seemingly irreverent attitude is reflected every time he enters a football pitch. His arms are engraved with countless tattoos, and his hairstyle has also become one of his main peculiar characteristics. He’s had countless impasses with Belgium manager Roberto Martinez, which ultimately caused him to miss out on the 2018 World Cup.
In fact, Radja Nainggolan has never played in a World Cup for Belgium. His only international tournament participation came in Euro 2016, where he scored one of the best goals in the competition and outperformed almost every single one of his teammates.
He has had issues with smoking in the past, but these have never affected his performances. Although he’s seen as a renegade by many, he’s always given, in his own words, “120% on the pitch”. He has criticized Roberto Martinez in public, and the Spaniards decision to leave him out of the 2018 World Cup caused Nainggolan to retire from the national team.
Many things can be said about the man that is Radja Nainggolan, but his abilities and commitment as a footballer are nothing short of unquestionable.