“It’s easy to have one good season, we’ll see in 10 years.”
Radja Nainggolan doesn’t often mince his words and this time was no different. In an interview with the Corriere dello Sport newspaper, the Belgian midfielder was critical of Roma’s ex-Sporting director Monchi, yet seemed irritated by the constant comparisons with Nicolò Zaniolo. Since the two were involved in a swap deal at the start of the season, they have often been mentioned in the same breath, but as Roma travel to face Inter on Saturday, they will go head to head for the very first time.
Nainggolan missed the earlier game between the two teams, meanwhile Zaniolo was impressing against Real Madrid and this only enhanced the comparison. On the one hand you had the combative, tough and rebellious midfielder, synonymous for enjoying the night life (he was suspended in January by Roma after his New Year’s Eve exploits), he had missed out on the World Cup and been picking up injuries. On the other, the media painted a picture of a clean-cut Inter youth product, overlooked by the Nerazzurri and who was now working hard and blossoming in the Capital.
“Zaniolo has played 20 Serie A games, 18 of them good… It’s only normal that they speak highly of young players, as nowadays they are given everything on a silver platter,” an irritated Nainggolan continued. He went on to tell the paper that he had played nine seasons at a high level, but admitted that this one had only been ‘okay’, he has not performed at his best so far for Inter, but his campaign hasn’t been horrendous. Inter are undefeated in their last 10 games that have featured the Belgian and have only lost four out of the 30 times he has played this campaign.
Direct comparisons are perhaps unfair on both parties, especially when they are sold to the public with window dressing. The facts are that Nainggolan has played 30 times, Zaniolo 32, the Belgian has five goals and three assists, the Italian six goals and two assists, Radja has a passing success percentage of 83.4%, Nicolò 79.7%. It is no surprise that the Nerazzurri midfielder is vexed when he comes in for criticism, as his numbers match up.
Whilst Nainggolan hasn’t managed to hit the heights of the 2016-17 season, when he netted 12 goals and provided seven assists in all competitions, he has still shown Inter that he is a box to box midfielder who is solid defensively and can provide the ability to start counter attacks. He has perhaps suffered from the fact that his season has been interrupted with some injures and that Inter themselves are not as free flowing as Roma were under Spalletti. This in turn hasn’t seen the Belgian able to perform in the same manner.
Despite this, he has been viewed as a failure thus far. Perhaps it is a mixture bad luck, circumstance and some bad decisions. Even on the day he signed for Inter, he crashed his car. This was a sign of things to come it seems, even though it wasn’t his fault. Driving his Ferrari Lusso from Rome to Milan, he had a tyre blow out and crashed into the motorway side rail. Things like this cannot be helped, but because of his other misdemeanours, they are reported with scepticism.
After this (and before he had played a single minute for Inter) he was spotted with disgraced TV personality Fabrizio Corona in a Bergamo nightclub. This as with most things in the modern world was caught on video, a supporter shouted at him to ‘go to bed’ and Radja responded telling the supporter where to go instead. This was compounded the next day when he turned up to training, which whilst good, wasn’t helped by the fact he was wearing the same clothes.
Nainggolan does look to be coming into some form of late and the fact that Roma are visiting San Siro tonight does mean that he can have the chance of putting down a marker. Whilst his season has been statistically good, he can use the clash against Zaniolo to silence the doubters. This resurrection could give Inter just the boost they need to qualify for the Champions League, then he can certainly celebrate.