The international break has arrived and the nations of Europe are preparing to play their final World Cup qualifying group games this weekend. Most national teams released their list of call ups for their two fixtures this past weekend. As usual there were some surprising decisions made by managers, including some questionable exclusions. I'd like to focus on one of those exclusions, Radja Nainggolan by Belgium, as he has been one of the best midfielders both the Italian Serie A and Europe over the last year. I don’t think there’s any question that Radja should be playing for Belgium this weekend. Martinez obviously thought otherwise.
Since, his arrival at AS Roma from Cagliari in January 2014 Radja Nainggolan has been one of the best midfielders in Serie A and arguably one of the best in Europe. He plays an all-around game and is a true box-to-box midfielder. Nainggolan's work rate is second to none and he routinely wins the ball back for Roma with his clean, hard tackling. Nainggolan is also good at holding onto possession and passes the ball well. He has improved offensively with each passing year since donning the Giallorossi jersey. Nainggolan makes incisive runs into the box which put him in great goal scoring positions and has a hammer of a shot from distance. Last season then Roma coach Luciano Spalletti played him in a more advanced midfield role and Radja's goal tally exploded to 11. He does it all for the Giallorossi.
Prior to his move to Roma, Naiggolan had made a handful of appearances for the Belgian National Team, but starting in 2014 he began to consistently receive call ups and played in most of Belgium's Euro 2016 qualifiers under former coach Marc Wilmots. Nainggolan was an integral part of Belgium's quarterfinal run in Euro '16 when he appeared in all five of the team's matches, including three starts, and contributed two goals.
It looked like Nainggolan had rightfully established himself on a team that is one of the most talented in Belgium's history. However, things have changed since Roberto Martinez took over for Wilmots just over a year ago. Nainggolan received some call ups and a few caps early on his Martinez's tenure. However, he only started one of Belgium's WC qualifiers back in March.
Nainggolan admitted to being late to a team meeting in June which certainly didn't win him favor with Martinez. He also doesn't live the cleanest lifestyle off the field, as he admittedly smokes and drinks, but it never seems to affect him when I watch him on a weekly basis with Roma. When he was excluded from the Belgian team early in September he expressed his bewilderment to the media saying things like "it makes no sense", that he's "not a rebel" and always commits "120 percent"to his managers. I'm sure that this did him no favors with Martinez when he was excluded again this time around. After this weekend's exclusion of Nainggolan, Martinez told the press that it was solely for tactical reasons and that there isn't a problem that exists with the player.
I don't believe Martinez for a second when I look at the group of midfielders that Martinez has on his roster. Martinez called up six midfielders Nacer Chadli, Kevin De Bruyne, Steven Defour, Marouane Fellaini, Youri Tielemans, and Axel Witsel. Chadli hasn't made a Premier League appearance yet this season for West Brom. Defour plays for Burnley. Meanwhile, for all of his talents, Axel Witsel is currently plying his trade in China. I find it hard to believe that those kinds of players are more deserving of a call than Nainggolan based solely on tactical reasons. I understand that Belgium have already clinched a spot in the World Cup mostly without his services. However, if Nainggolan continues last season's run of form deep into this one but continues to be excluded heading into next summer's World Cup it would be criminal. In my opinion, if this happens to be the case, Martinez would be smiting his nose to spite his face.
Do you think Nainggolan’s exclusion by Martinez is justified?
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