22. Radja Nainggolan
On May 4, 1988, a special player was born. It’s the player whose father left him at a very young age, because he couldn’t raise his family. It’s the player whose mother worked multiple jobs, just to feed her daughter and son.
That certain player is none other than Radja Nainggolan. The 28 year old is a product of his upbringing, being raised in Antwerp by a single mom. The days were spent at school, and after school at the blacktop playing street football. And he wasn’t the only one, his sister; Riana played along with the teenage boys. When playing for his local club, which happened to be in the top flight of Belgian football, at the time, he got spotted by Swiss agent Alessandro Beltrami. As a 16 year old, he packed his bags and went to Serie B side Piacenza.
He was 16 years old, all alone in a country. But the memories of the kids playing football on the blacktop, his mum, his dad not wanting him, all spurred him on to challenge himself every day. And even more to that; test his limits, and at times break the barrier. 4 years later he was loaned to Cagliari, initially on loan. In January 2014, he turned down moves to Juve, Milan & Southampton in order to join Roma, who paid $3m to loan him until the end of the season + a $6m to complete the deal in June.
“When I think back to where I came from, I was a really poor child. I ate a lot of dirt to get where I am today.” “Another big motivation for me was that I got snubbed from the Brazil 2014 squad. I still haven’t digested it because I deserved to be in Brazil.” [sportweek]
Nainggolan signed a permanent deal with Roma in the 2015 off-season, for €9 million. On 6 July of the following year, after being the subject of three bids from Chelsea, with the last one reportedly valued at €40 million, he decided to stay after receiving an improved contract until June 2020.
Roma’s pitbull averages 2 tackles and an interception per game, but this season, he’s adapted to a more creative & more attacking role. In that position alone, he’s played 24 games and scored 9 times, along with 3 assists. The Belgian is one of the calmest and most efficient distributors in the Calcio A.
All said and done, Radja Nainggolan is a superb, superb player. He’s the player you wished played for your club. He’s got the heart of a warrior, the skills of a street technician and the tackling ability of that of a Cantera graduate. A big, big move to England is imminent. The question now is though, which colours will he be wearing the following season?