Monday January 9 2017
Dear Radja...

Roma fans have to consider the possibility of losing Radja Nainggolan, so Andrea Tallarita writes him an open letter.

Roman poet Valerio Magrelli once wrote that nothing ever had greater synthetic power than football nicknames except for Egyptian hieroglyphs. So it's pretty odd, Radja Nainggolan, that your fans should have dubbed you so inaccurately. Radja 'the Ninja'? Because of the vague consonance, and your almond eyes? Is that really it?

It must be, because there's absolutely nothing Ninja-like about you. You are anything but subtle, or inconspicuous, or stealthy. You are a midfield bulldozer who would have been more aptly nicknamed 'the Naginata', if anybody other than bookworms and strategy gamers knew about ancient Japanese heavy infantry.

You're no Ninja, Nainggolan. You are no more a sibling to shadows than the rooster which that crest makes you resemble. The truth is quite the opposite: you are the burning sun in Roma's patchwork international squad, the box-to-box blaze on the grass of the Olimpico, the golden half of the red-and-yellow flag.

Radja the Radiant, they should really call you, the one who forced his way into Belgium's Eleven of Miracles, who was worth €10m in 2012 and whose value is now three, four maybe even five times that. Too bright for Roma's own good, some would say.

Symptom and cause of the Giallorossi's tragic, cyclical failure to break through into the higher strata of football is precisely their inability to retain their brightest stars. Miralem Pjanic was the perfect complement to your Ninjutsu (which isn't really Ninjutsu). He was the skill to your brawn, the velvet glove to your iron fist. And he's gone, Radja.

Maybe that explains why, for the first half of this season, you were playing a bit below your standards. Edin Dzeko's renaissance stole the spotlight and Kevin Strootman's return took the scraps. Your light dulled by a couple of grades. It wasn't until the last few games of the year – with those goals against Lazio and Milan, that Raging Bull performance against Juventus – that you reminded everyone where the centre of the solar system was located.

Will you follow the way of Pjanic? Antonio Conte, never a man to downplay the value of grit, is conscious of your worth. And he has Chelsea's overflowing coffers to back a potential bid. If Chelsea don't make a move, someone else will. There is no dark side of planet football that hasn't been touched by your light.

The Romanisti have been burnt so many times that it would be heartbreak to see you go too. You are the Lupi's most valuable asset (alongside only Kostas Manolas), which is exactly what makes you so vulnerable. Just for once, be the player that stays true to his word and stick with the club you claim to love. Don't leave us all in this too-familiar darkness.

Can Roma keep you? They have such a consolidated habit of selling their best player every summer, that we may very well see you walk out. The fact that the club will have a new director of sport (Monchi, presumably, but let's wait and see) means that old market strategies will be ditched, so they might keep you. But it also means that current certainties may be cast out, so they might not.

The sad truth is that your club doesn't have the means to retain you, if you really want to go. If they don't make Champions League qualification (touch wood), they'll have to sell you for sure – they'll need the money. And then it's plausible you wouldn't want to stay anyway.

If they make it into that big cash-cow of a tournament, then the choice really belongs to you. We'll try and do things your way, Radja, and look at the bright side. If you stay, then our chessboard keeps its King. We can still face our opponents with all our pieces, and leave the rest to the intelligence of Luciano Spalletti.

If you go, then perhaps – and it's a big perhaps – this summer may be the best possible time. You were amazing the last two seasons, but in this campaign we started glimpsing sunspots. Signs that the meridian has been crossed. It's still a long way to sunset, but could it be true – that the golden chariot has finally started on its way downhill?

At this precise moment we need you more than a rock-band needs guitars, but come the end of the season, things will change. The new sports director may decide to rethink the entire team. Our Primavera loans, many of them midfielders, will be called back from all over Italy.

If you have to go, then go now, when there's time for you and the club to make the most of it. Selling the biggest star isn't always a bad strategy. In fact it happens to be a good move if it's timed just right, shortly before that star begins to blink away.

This isn't to say that Roma would necessarily do well to sell you. It's always going to be a hard decision, and it could very well back-fire. All we know is that the €50m you can make us this summer will be a certainty. Your continued brilliance – or at least, this degree of it – is not.

Let's wait, let's try and sit still, until we know what everyone wants. You, your agent, Roma's new director of sport. We need to know if anyone wants to reinvent the team's midfield, and if their ideas require big money.

You are not a Ninja, never have been, and so we're sure you won't go gentle into that good night. We'll do the same from the other side of that running track. This much we can promise you, my brilliant number four, that we will rage against the dying of the light.

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Have your say...
Radja js not Ninja he reminds me more of Bane from the Batman movie but if Roma is in no hurry to sell they should keep him for a few more seasons! He has improved this squad quiet a bit!
on the 13th January, 2017 at 9:57pm
on the 9th January, 2017 at 4:11pm
on the 9th January, 2017 at 3:14pm

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