Prior to the opening of this summer’s transfer window, Luciano Spalletti made it clear that he expected Inter to sign players with character ahead of their return to the UEFA Champions League. Despite scraping a fourth-place finish on the final day of last season, much was made of the fact that the Nerazzurri lacked personality on the pitch. This was particularly true in midfield, as no one player was able to cement their place in the club’s long-term plans, perhaps with the possible exception of Marcelo Brozović.
With that in mind, it came as no surprise when the news broke that sporting director Piero Ausilio was prioritising the acquisition of a new midfielder. The signing of Radja Nainggolan from Roma, which also saw the much-maligned Davide Santon join the Giallorossi on a permanent deal, was a masterstroke by the transfer guru. The Belgian enjoyed his most productive season to date working under Spalletti in the Italian capital. Indeed, he was imperious in a variety of positions.
In many respects, Nainggolan is a perfect fit for the direction in which Suning’s Inter project must head this season. There is no doubt that the Chinese owners have done superb work improving the club and its infrastructure off the pitch, but now they are surely looking towards building tangible success for the fans to enjoy. Players with Nainggolan’s ability and experience will be crucial to Inter’s chances of mounting a sustained challenge for the Scudetto, especially with Juventus showing no sign of easing off after the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo.
Tactically, the former Cagliari star offers Spalletti a number of options which he quite simply did not have last season. He has played some of his best football in a midfield three alongside Daniele De Rossi and Kevin Strootman during his spell at the Stadio Olimpico. However, he also impressed in a more attacking role within the Tuscan’s trademark 4-2-3-1 formation, catapulting Roma to their highest ever points total. If he can replicate that sort of form, there is every chance that this season could be one to remember for Interisti the world over.
The experience he has of playing in so many tactical systems, looking as far back as his time in Sardinia, will be invaluable to Spalletti and his technical staff as they try to teach their players how to assimilate a variety of tactical concepts. If reports of Spalletti’s intent to gradually switch to a 3-5-2 or 3-4-1-2 are correct, Nainggolan’s attacking prowess will become even more important as he is tasked with providing support for Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martínez in the final third.
As Inter fans themselves can testify to, having been on the receiving end of one or two thunderbolts from the man nicknamed Ninja, Nainggolan has been a top performer in Serie A for several years now. What’s more, his bitter rivalry with Juve fans will no doubt motivate him to do everything in his power to steal their Scudetto crown.
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