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Totti Today: The Way Of The Ninja

Some goodbyes leave a scar on the heart. After four and a half seasons, Radja leaves Rome to join Spallett’s Inter.

FC Crotone v AS Roma - Serie A Photo by Maurizio Lagana/Getty Images

Manca solo l’ufficialità. We’re dangerously close to the exit of Radja Nainggolan, warrior and dynamo of AS Roma. A smoker. A famous merrymaker. Notoir bad boy and walking advertisement for tattoo parlors all around the world. Rome will be a quieter and less entertaining place without Radja, Why…

Sometimes they make choices for you”, Radja told a fan on Instagram, one of his most popular ‘hideouts’. He’s not deliberately joining Inter mind you, only because his time in Roma was up. Monchi, Pallotta, EDF probably sat down in an office somewhere and decided to shop Radja around and see who made the most interesting bid.

Luciano Spalletti has always been a fan and an admirer and so his Inter side offered 2 players and approx. 24 million euros. Not the best offer Roma could accept, only one year ago Il Ninja was worth double that figure after his record season and 11 goals. But a lot can happen in one year and perhaps the magic, the click is simply not there anymore. And then it’s best for both parties to end your relationship, how hard it may sound. There’s no reason to drag this on for months. Get on with it, no bullshit. Just like Radja.

EDF is not Spalletti and Monchi is not Sabatini. Times change, people change. Not long after his 30th birthday, Radja is shown the door, making way for new faces like Coric, Cristante and (apparently) Pastore. Not bad players, far from actually, but there are few players out there who have the same grinta, stamina and heart as Radja. There are few players with the same skill set and attitude. A fighter, a lover of all things Roman. But love has always been a two-way street and sadly, AS Roma has given up on him.

In the end Radja leaves Roma with almost 200 games in all competitions nearly 30 goals in Serie A. Some of them were breathtaking and absolute stunners. And let’s not forget his famous ‘scorpion’ tackle and his numerous interceptions or runs into the box. He wasn’t the tallest but still physically strong and quite fast (for a smoker).

And what was exactly Radja’s position in Rome? He could play anywhere in midfield (box-to-box, central, defensive,...) although season 2016-2017 under Spalletti he was probably at his peak. In an advanced role, close to Dzeko, he scored 11 goals in Serie A and was hailed as one of Europe’s best midfielders. Remember, this is hardly one year ago. It seems Roma will take a different path next season and there will be less ‘muscle’ and more ‘fantasy’ on the team, like Pastore, Ziyech, Kluivert and Coric.

It’s true that in EDF’s 4-3-3 Radja’s performances have been below-par at times, but so were the ones from Strootman, Pellegrini or Gonalons. Players had to adjust to Di Francesco’s system, it took some time. Four goals in 31 games is his swan song in Rome. Not his worst tally (2 goals in 36 games for Cagliari once) but not exactly the main reason to sell a player. Radja still scored 2 goals in a CL semifinal and was also vital in a couple of Serie A games like Lazio or Crotone.

Still, it didn’t suffice for the management and he will become an Nerazzurro very soon. Inter Milan. Ugh. One of the most despicable teams in Italy (from a personal view), especially after the Calciopoli years. But not that surprising. Of course there’s the factor Spalletti. Radja will be a starter for sure in his 4-2-3-1 formation. Plus, Radja hates Juve and Inter and Juve share a bitter rivalry so yeah, it makes sense in a way...

Wait, what, who the hell am I kiding? This one f*ckin stings and tears my heart into thousand pieces. It’s like someone stabbed me in the stomach (multiple times) while kicking in my balls and slamming a baseball bat with spikes right into my face, and in the meantime he’s carving my eyes out with a rusty spoon and feeding them to the lions who haven’t eaten in days!

..... Ok, I’ve cooled down a bit.

Radja may be a smoker or a party animal, but that never really influenced or downgraded his play. There are numerous sporters who smoke or drink a bottle or two. Being a professional doesn’t mean you need to live as a priest for the rest of your life. A lot of people look up to him, because he made it through some tough times in his youth, he kept his head up and rightfully earned his status in Belgium and Italy. He left his family and Belgium at a very young age. He’s an example for young kids without resources to aspire a career in football.

Ok, so his tattoos aren’t exactly classy and perhaps a bit dubious, but it’s part of his lifestyle. He doesn’t hurt anyone, does he? Totti once spat on a footballer, De Rossi broke an American’s nose in a World Cup after an elbow. Only last season Dani received a stupid red for slapping a Genoa defender. And he’s way older than Radja.

Things need to be put in perspective. Some see Radja as a loose cannon, a timebomb. That’s mainly why he got ignored by Belgium’s NT coach Martinez for the World Cup in Russia. Nonsense. He never refused to be subbed on and always worked hard for the team. No single Roman coach or player had a feud with him since he joined us, in fact everyone seems to like him judging from photos and videos on social media. Dzeko, Florenzi, Alisson, Manolas, Dani, … They all want to hang out with Radja.

We fans love him, fans from Juventus and Lazio love to hate him. Remember the controversial dolls at the Colosseo, hung up by Laziale? Radja just laughed it away. He didn’t flee from Rome or searched a house elsewhere.

Radja, you wear your heart on his sleeve and that irritates some people I guess. I for once always appreciated your honesty, recklessness and way of life. You showed us it’s nice to be different, dare to be you. I can’t really compare you with a former Roma player, that’s because you’re unique, one of a kind.

I, as a Belgian myself, was ecstatic when you joined Roma in the Winter of 2014. The first Belgian to play for Roma, imagine that! So proud. I was even more ecstatic when you turned into one of the hottest players in Serie A. Your 4+ years in Rome will always have a special place in my heart. I never expected it to end this way, so abrupt. I’m so sorry.

Sometimes they make choices for you”. I can’t help but feel the same way. They took Radja from us and although I will support Roma until the grave (La Roma non si discute, si ama), it will take a long time to heal that wound. A very long time.

Grazie Ninja. Grazie for everything. And never change.