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Totti Today #89: The Devil & The Ninja

Everyone’s favorite ninja (next to Chris Farley’s one from Beverly Hills) will start his first tournament as a Belgian international, after narrowly missing out on the World Cup 2014. And look how cute, he immediatly faces his Italian friends Dani, Florenzi and SES in group E!

Paolo Bruno/Getty Images

We all know Radja by now, he breathes football and doesn’t want to miss a single minute of every game in every tournament, pushing the limits of his body. NT coach Wilmots even had to calm him down during recent training camps, not to risk an injury right before Euro 2016 in France begins. Radja’s out to prove and show himself to the world in his first tournament as an international.

Nainggolan became an important piece of Wimots’ 4-3-3 puzzle . At the age of 28 he finally got the recognition he deserves after splendid campaigns with AS Roma. Radja has grown a lot since joining Roma in the Winter of 2014, but he already was an established force in Serie A before that, as Cagliari’s midfield motor. With his transfer from Sardegna to the capital of Italy, he tried to grab the attention of Wilmots to include him in the squad for the World Cup 2014. Alas… He was omitted.

That was quite a blow, even for a Ninja like him. He played little during the qualifiers as the midfield back then mostly consisted of Witsel, Dembele, Fellaini and Defour. So Wilmots decided to leave him at home. However, during the qualifiers for Euro 2016 Radja was omnipresent, he featured in all games but one, scoring two goals. His performances in Rome weren’t left unnoticed as well by the Belgian media.

Belgium (aka the Red Devils) has a wide array of midfielders at his disposal, but Radja has a unique profile. And I’m not saying that because he’s a Giallorosso. He offers the team something special. For instance, Witsel reads the game well and is a good passer, Dembele rarely losses a bal land has a great technique, Fellaini is a beast and aerial threat on corners. But no one has that determination and commitment like Radja. A huge workrate, he has seven lungs. He’s the ultimate link between the defence and attack. Wilmots loves that because back when he was a player, he had the same profile. No primadonna, just work your ass off for the team until the last minute, whatever the score may be.

Luckily for Wilmots, Belgium currently has one of its finest football generations since long and even is one of the outsiders to win the bloody Euro thingy. Some partners-in-crime from Radja: Courtois, Hazard, De Bruyne, Alderweireld, Lukaku, Carrasco, Witsel, Mertens and Vertonghen. Talent in abundance. The World Cup in Brazil was deemed a success, with a quarter-final against Messi’s Argentina which they narrowly lost 1-0. Higuain scored a lucky goal.

This is the second international tournament for most guys and people expect at least a semi-final. There’s no Colombia, Brazil or Argentina this time. Teams like France and England are introducing new exciting talents like Belgium, while Italy’s squad seems a bit average to compete for the title. Portugal have Ronaldo and let’s not forget Ibra for Sweden and Bale for Wales.

Spain and Germany are the obvious contenders with a core of already established players (like Iniesta, Ramos, Silva, Fabregas, Neuer, Boateng, Gomez, Müller, Özil). One is the reigning European champion, the other is the current world champion. However, in the knock-out fase everything can happen. Just look at Greece in 2004 or Denmark in 1992. We’ll see how the competition evolves, but Belgium is bound to have a big say in all of this. They must, when you look at the roster. Simply put: it’s time to harvest.

Like I said in the beginning of this post, Il Ninja will face Florenzi, Dani and SES in the first game of group E. Immediatly a tough test for both nations. Belgium may have a slight advantage but let’s not forget Italy amassed more points in the qualifiers (24 compared to Belgium’s 23) and the Azzurri still are vice-champions of Europe after all.

It’s nice for Radja that he’ll encounter some familiar faces in his first game, against the country he considers his second home and gave him all those football opportunities since 2005. That motivates him even more. I personally look forward to the battle in midfield between Nainggolan and Florenzi.

A win would be a great start for either team as it will almost give you certainty to advance to the next round, seeing Ireland and Sweden are the ‘inferior’ teams of group E. The stakes are high, it’s a big game. Radja loves that and usually performs at his best on such occasions.

We all know the Ninja by now, but soon France and the rest of Europe will meet Radja the Devil.