Roma star and fan favourite Radja Nainggolan found himself out of favour with the Belgium manager Roberto Martinez in 2017, and after missing out on selection for the World Cup qualifiers in September announced his retirement from international football. Marc Wilmot’s successor has recently stated that the snub was down to the fact that there were better players in Nainggolan’s position, but has the new Belgium manager made a huge mistake in omitting the 29-year-old?
Nainggolan has been a regular in the Belgium national team since 2009, and has made 29 appearances for his country. Although competition in the nation’s pool of highly talented footballers is fierce, many were shocked when Martinez took the job and opted to drop the Roma playmaker. The former Everton manager’s reasoning was that there are better options in the number 10 role, including Eden Hazard and Dries Mertens.
Martinez has a strong argument in this respect, but he seems to have failed to realise how useful Nainggolan can be elsewhere on the pitch. The Serie A midfielder is powerful, athletic, and a great passer of the ball. This makes him a useful addition to the team in any of the midfield positions. If Martinez wants to use Martens and Hazard in the more advanced roles, it could be highly effective having Nainggolan operating deeper alongside Kevin De Bruyne and helping to pull the strings from midfield. Nainggolan’s versatility means he could be used elsewhere in different tactical systems, and the former Cagliari player provides numerous options.
Belgium boast an exceptional set of players, but so far they have disappointed on the world stage. Despite having the likes of Hazard, De Bruyne, Mertens, Romelu Lukaku, and Toby Alderweireld in their ranks, they are outsiders to win the World Cup at 10/1 in the international football betting. But it should be noted that this is a fairly young set of players who have begun to show their world-class abilities only in recent years. Now that these superstars are beginning to display their supreme talents, they have a chance of going much further in major tournaments.
In order to get to the latter stages, though, they will surely need the level-headed, more experienced players like Nainggolan to help keep the side grounded. This is another significant reason why many people were shocked by Martinez’s snubbing of the Roma legend. Nainggolan was one of the most pivotal players for Belgium in Euro 2016 as well as on the journey to qualifying, and has shown that he can operate well under pressure.
Some Belgium supporters may still be unsure whether the appointment of Martinez was a good one. His career at club level has been fairly average, and he was sacked as the Toffees manager because the performances were not good enough and the side finished in a poor league position. Leaving a star of Nainggolan’s stature out of the Belgium side, after the Roma player had been a regular before, was a bold move to say the least. And if Belgium aren’t successful in the summer, the Spaniard may well live to regret this decision.