If second leg of AS Roma’s Champions League semifinal against Liverpool was the Comedy of Errors, the valiant Giallorossi midfielder Radja Nainggolan would be the epitome of mistaken identities mishap.
A heavily-inked bulldog of a player with a doggy lifestyle criticized and frowned upon by many would have never struck you as a professional footballer.
Two packs a day and a proclivity towards a drink – often two – cut an unlikely football figure whose lungs carry a breath of a warrior nonetheless. A true legionnaire whose loyalty is commendable and hard to come across these days.
“I am a player who has always been 120%, and a person available to everyone. I’m not a rebel; I smoke, that’s true.”, Nainggolan told the Belgian publication HNL in August 2017.
His questionable lifestyle and poor off-field habits cost him a suspension from AS Roma squad ahead of the Atalanta clash at the beginning of the year, after Nainggolan posted a video of himself smoking and drinking during the New Year’s Eve.
A Unique Character in World Football
His antics aside, Radja Nainggolan remains AS Roma fans’ firm favourite. The 29-year-old is the embodiment of the club’s philosophy. Never afraid to stick his boot, never holding back and with an endless supply of energy in his engine room, the Belgium international rejected a couple of chances to move away from Rome which made him a hero at the Stadio Olimpico.
Manchester United and Chelsea are the two clubs that failed in several bids to land the highly-rated midfielder who was never guided by the financial aspects of the game.
“If money were my only motivation, I would have changed clubs many times and my salary would have grown, but my first priority is to live well. You need to live well and be happy playing where you are and I have both of those things here. Everything is perfect; my family is happy in Rome.”, he was quoted commenting a potential change of surroundings last summer.
He likes to ‘go for the tougher route’ in life, promising to ‘be here for years to come’ in an answer to the latest rumours once again linking him with a Prem switch.
Either hated or adored, Nainggolan is a polarising force that will never seize to amaze and surprise. And that was exactly the case last night as well in a pulsating 4-2 win over Liverpool which saw AS Roma crush out of the Champions League in a Shakespearean fashion.
An eventful night in the Eternal City saw Giallorossi fail short to mount yet another one of the gargantuan comebacks witnessed in the previous round of the competition against Barcelona with Radja Nainggolan playing a central role in his team’s 4-2 victory.
The Belgium superstar scored a late brace and put in a man of the match performance with the total of three shots on target, 5 key passes, 4 crosses, 2 successful dribbles and 12 ball recoveries which nevertheless remained in the shadow of his error that led to Liverpool’s opening goal.
Nainggolan gave away first goal with a rather daft pass into the middle of the pitch and to the legs of Firmino which opened a counterattack for the Reds after only nine minutes. A thunderous strike saw Radja score his first Champions League goal this season and he quickly doubled the tally with another thumping shot, this time from the penalty spot as time ticked down relentlessly.
In the end, it was the night of contrasts for Radja Nainggolan as a strong summary of his entire career thus far.
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