In late September, with Inter Milan 1-0 up away to Cagliari with just seven minutes left on the clock, Agim Ibraimi squared the ball to Radja Nainggolan, who had crept to the outskirts of the Nerazzurri’s 18-yard box.
The Belgian-born son of an Indonesian father required just a single touch to control the pass, teed up his own right foot and released a low, hard drive that found its way inside the far post, restoring the level scoreline for the Sardinians.
The goal capped an exceptional, all-around performance for the 25-year-old, who had also won all of his aerial battles and successfully executed a pair of tackles, according to statistics provided by WhoScored.com.
Less than three months later, Nainggolan had helped Cagliari to within striking distance of the top half of the Serie A table while also playing himself into a high-profile transfer to AS Roma.
The deal was confirmed on Tuesday, with the second-place Giallorossi paying an initial €3 million to bring the midfielder to the capital on loan, as reported by Goal. They’ll also have the option of making the move permanent with another €3 million payment at the end of the season.
It’s likely they’ll make it, as between now and May they’ll find themselves benefiting from a hard-working, high-energy midfielder who could well end up playing his best football of the season in manager Rudi Garcia’s 4-3-3 setup at the Stadio Olimpico.
And that’s saying something.
Already this term, Nainggolan has established himself as one of Italian football’s most coveted midfielders, building on a solid 2012-13 campaign in which he played an important role in Cagliari’s impressive 11th-place finish. He has cut out the mistakes that often seemed to plague his performances, and despite picking up his fair share of yellow cards (he was the most-booked player in Serie A last season) has yet to be shown a red card.
In his final match for the Rossoblu—a 0-0 draw away to Chievo on Sunday that stretched the club’s unbeaten run to nine games—he again won all of his aerial duels, completed three attacking dribbles and made an eye-popping seven tackles on the defensive side of the ball without being booked.
That sort of complete, top-speed performance will only make him even more of an asset to a Roma side that already plays some spellbinding football and could use a bit more sandpaper, a bit more intensity, and that he is most comfortable on the side (preferably the left) of a midfield trio should see him quickly nail down a place in the starting XI at Roma.
In recent weeks, the gloss has rather come off a shiny Giallorossi outfit that began its schedule with 10 straight wins, and going into Sunday’s match against Genoa they have won only two of their previous eight matches in the Italian top flight.
The addition of Nainggolan could be just the thing to reinvigorate them—especially in a crucial period that could make or break their quest for Champions League football going into next season.