A lot of people were relieved after NT coach Roberto Martinez named his squad for the upcoming friendlies against Mexico and Japan (football heavyweights and good practice before the World Cup..... Ummm, no.). A familiar face returned after a long absence: Radja’s back, baby! Even the blind population in Belgium could see that Nainggolan deserves a spot on the plane (or train, or boat, or a Ford Fiesta) to Russia and is a must on every team sheet. Only Roberto thought otherwise.
You see, Roberto’s a gentleman. And he loves players who are disciplined and follow orders to the very end. Be on time at training for example. Radja, well, let’s say he’s special. One look at him and you know he’s not to be messed with. Why? It starts with a T and ends with ATTOOS. But it’s not only his body paint that makes Radja so unique+extravagant. Smoking, drinking, partying... He’s done it all during his career. But that didn’t exactly hurt his performances nor image in both Italy and Belgium. He might be a bit of a lose cannon, but on the field he’s a fighter, warrior, animal, *insert another word to praise his incredible mentality*.
In Rome he’s one of the most popular guys, with the fans as well as the players, while in Belgium probably 90% of the population thinks he should be a guarantee in our national team. Everybody loves
Raymond Radja. Well, almost everyone. Sucks that one of the most important men, his NT coach, is not one of them.
Yet, Roberto simply couldn’t ignore Nainggolan’s performances against Chelsea, a side which Roberto knows very well because he trained Wigan and Everton in the Premier League between 2009 and 2016. Justice has prevailed. Leaving out Radja while picking Defour (Burnley), Witsel (some Chinese club), Tielemans (Monaco), Praet (Sampdoria), Thorgan Hazard (Mönchengladbach) or Chadli (West Brom) would be a dead shame and the ultimate blasphemy. Radja belongs there, he deserves to play alongside Belgium’s best like De Bruyne, Vertonghen, Eden Hazard and Courtois.
Whether he’ll win the damn thing in Russia or not, that doesn’t matter. Excluding him means depriving Radja of one of the world’s most beautiful competitions: the World Cup. A chance to play for your country, defend your flag, sing the national anthem and play against the best of the best of the best. He has quite a unique skill set and every team can use a combative midfielder like him. Others would be jealous of Belgium, Martinez just ignored him and opted for (with all due respect for his replacements) lesser names.
But that’s all in the past now. Mistakes have been made and sadly they can’t be reversed. Nainggolan is once again part of his NT team and Martinez already said he’ll play quite a bit against both Mexico and Japan. Ironically, Radja’s still not sure of his place in the final selection. Belgium has quite a pond of talent at the moment and there are only 23 spots, of which 3 automatically go to goalkeepers.
Now it’s up to Radja to prove himself and show why he earns these caps. In the next two friendlies he’ll need to convince Roberto and I’m damn sure he’ll succeed in doing so. Because that’s why we all love the crazy man. He always fights back and returns stronger than ever.
For me it’s already a done deal. Beware Mother Russia, Il Ninja is coming!
*update: apparently, Radja injured himself during trainig and will miss both Mexico and Japan, so errr, yeah, just ignore those previous 600 words*