Last Wednesday I was out to lunch with some work colleagues from my day job at a restaurant by the office. On the big screen TVs they were showing a Champions League preview show where they were discussing the upcoming match between Tottenham and Inter, when it came time to talk about the nerazzurri the main talking points weren’t about Icardi, Skriniar or Perisic but rather Radja Nainggolan.
The Belgian international is a big name both because of his (past) performances on the pitch but also his outsized personality off it so I wasn’t surprised an American TV station would feature him prominently in their pre match previews.
Now how players are rated is obviously subjective, but many who have followed Serie A closely in the past 18 months have seen a player in decline after arguably his best season as a professional when he scored 11 goals in the 2016/17- but because it can take some time for perception to catch up to reality, when Roma sold him to Inter last summer many saw this as a home run for the nerazzurri, especially because they were in theory weakening a rival for a Champions League spot.
But with a third of the season in the books, the deal that involved Nainggolan, Nicolo’ Zaniolo, Davide Santon and €14 million can’t really be considered a success for either side. While Nainggolan scored in his league debut for Inter, he has missed five matches and rarely made an impact- as a matter of fact, after that lofty segment in the pre game show, Nainggolan ended up having to leave the match against Spurs in the first half.
On the Roma side of things, there has been a mixed return when you look at all the layers of the deal. Despite only being 19 years old, Nicolo’ Zaniolo has already started two matches against Real Madrid in the Champions League, he has also been selected by Roberto Mancini for the Azzurri senior squad and has continued to be a valuable player on Di Biagio’s Under 21 team.
While Davide Santon was essentially a throw in the deal for financial reasons since both Roma and Inter structured it in a manner to fit both of their Financial Fair Play restrictions, he has actually been more than adequate when Di Francesco called upon him. I know his mistake against Udinese is fresh on people’s minds, but few expected him to start 5 matches out of 13 and perform well enough to be Roma’s 5th best player on WhoScored.
While Zaniolo and Santon have so far performed better than expected, the player Roma reinvested most of the Nainggolan money on (and his salary slot) has struggled to stay healthy- of course that comes with the territory with Javier Pastore. But despite being one of the highest paid players on the team, the Argentine is now behind Lorenzo Pellegrini in the trequartista role.
The decline in Nainggolan’s performances on the pitch wasn’t the only reason Roma wanted to move on from him. The giallorossi’s plan is to rebuild around numerous young players- in addition to Zaniolo, Monchi also acquired Cristante, Coric and Kluivert to go with Under and Schick- they believed that having a wild spirit like Nainggolan wouldn’t allow them to develop them properly.
But while Roma is probably glad they don’t have their top young prospects sharing a locker room with someone who freely admits to drinking and smoking and who enjoys the night life, the team clearly misses his grit, determination and experience- all attributes that Di Francesco has pointed out as lacking especially when the team falls behind in matches.
While Roma is banking on the fact that Nicolo’ Zaniolo will become a star and Inter is hoping Nainggolan will finally get healthy (in the meantime he’s out for the game against his former team this weekend) and perform like he did for Spalletti a few years ago, it’s not out of the question that the biggest benefit this deal will bring to both clubs is the relief from Financial Fair Play they received based on how the deal was structured.
from my iPad