We've all had our gripes with Roma's transfer policy over the past decade or so, the players are either too young and inexperienced to make an immediate impact, or too old and too Julio Baptista-ish to make an impact at all. Granted, some of this stems from Roma's always restrictive transfer budget, but once in a blue moon the fates conspire and Walter Sabatini and his predecessors hit a homerun (sorry for the mixed metaphor), delivering unto us, the woe-begotten masses, a perfect transfer: perfect in price, perfect in timing, and most importantly, perfect in form and function.
Luca Toni's arrival during the winter of 2010 was a godsend, providing the goal scoring threat Claudio Ranieri's side desperately needed. The handsomest man on the peninsula scored five league goals for Roma that season, giving the Giallorossi attack the extra oomph it needed to keep the heat on Inter Milan throughout that spring.
Toni's terrific transfer was preceded, of course, by several key players, most notably Gabriel Batistuta, Antonio Cassano and even Christian Pannucci, while the latter day transfers of Miralem Pjanic and Kevin Strootman have proven just as productive and perhaps divinely inspired.
But it's that last name that indirectly brings us to today's news, the mutual love affair between Roma and their battle hardened Belgian midfielder, Radja Nainggolan. While Radja was beginning to make a name for himself leading the charge in Cagliari, his move to the Eternal City proved quite fortuitous for the club and player alike. And isn't it just our luck that Nainggolan's fate is bound up as one of the last vestiges of Italy's antiquated co-ownership system?
Brought to the club in January of 2014, Nainggolan was merely supposed to be another cog in the machine, one to supplant Daniele De Rossi and/or Kevin Strootman as Rudi Garcia saw fit, and also to make us forget about the dearly departed Michael Bradley. However, the minute Strootman went down with an ACL injury in March, Nainggolan's presence and role became abundantly clear; be the glue guy, the one who takes pressure off DDR and gives Pjanic the freedom to roam.
However, this season, despite a few lulls, Nainggolan has taken his game to an entirely different level, throwing in a dash of creativity and shot taking hutzpah along with his trademarked hard tackling and incisive passing, firmly entrenching himself as a building block for Roma 2.0 (or are we up to 3.0 by now?)
In a sense, the genius of this move wasn't made evident until Roma lost arguably its most recent greatest transfer, Kevin Strootman. However, Nainggolan has blossomed into so much more than a mere role player this season, making this summer's contract/transfer negotiation with Cagliari particularly perilous. The early figures to make this move permanent are hovering around €15m, but that figure could easily climb north of twenty million, particularly if other parties get involved, or even intimate about getting involved.
For Nainggolan's part, the love, and presumed desire to stay, is there:
I'm happy here at Roma. We've done very well in my two years here, and I feel perfectly integrated. I hope to continue to do well in this shirt. It's well-known that there's the question of ownership which has to be resolved, but I'm happy here.
Of course, part of what separates the lore of the Batistuta transfer from nearly everything else in Roma's transfer history, no matter how seemingly perfect each move was at its respective time, were two simple factors: he won and he stuck around.
Time will tell if Nainggolan delivers Roma's fourth Scudetto, but let's hope his love for Roma isn't lost this summer.