Radja Nainggolan

Radja Nainggolan (born 4 May 1988) is a Belgian professional footballer who plays as a midfielder for Italian club Inter Milan.

Radja Nainggolan
Nainggolan with Roma in 2018
Personal information
Full name Radja Nainggolan[1]
Date of birth (1988-05-04) 4 May 1988 (age 33)[2]
Place of birth Antwerp, Belgium[2]
Height 1.76 m (5 ft 9 in)[3]
Position(s) Midfielder
Club information
Current team
Inter Milan
Youth career
2000–2005 Germinal Beerschot
2005–2007 Piacenza
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2006–2010 Piacenza 71 (11)
2010Cagliari (loan) 7 (2)
2010–2014 Cagliari 124 (32)
2014Roma (loan) 17 (2)
2014–2018 Roma 138 (37)
2018– Inter Milan 33 (8)
2019–2020Cagliari (loan) 26 (9)
2021Cagliari (loan) 22 (5)
National team
2004 Belgium U16 1 (0)
2007 Belgium U19 2 (0)
2008–2009 Belgium U20 2 (0)
2007–2010 Belgium U21 13 (1)
2009–2018 Belgium 30 (6)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 03:00, 23 May 2021 (UTC)

Nicknamed Il Ninja,[4] he spent his entire professional career in Italy, representing Piacenza, Cagliari, Roma and Inter Milan and making over 400 Serie A appearances. He was named four consecutive times in the Serie A Team of the Year.

A Belgium international for eight years, Nainggolan played 30 times for his country (scoring six goals) and represented it at Euro 2016.

Early life

Nainggolan was born in Antwerp, the son of Lizy Bogaerts, a Belgian of Flemish ethnicity who raised him with his three half brothers and his twin sister,[5][6] and Marianus Nainggolan, an Indonesian of Batak background and member of the Batak Christian Protestant Church.[7] His father abandoned the family when Radja was still a child.[8]

Nainggolan's mother died in 2010,[9] and after her death he tattooed two large wings on his back with her dates of birth and death.[8][10] He was raised Roman Catholic and spoke Dutch, English, French and Italian fluently.[11][12][13]

Club career


Nainggolan began playing football with Tubantia Borgerhout at the age of 5.[14] Seven years later he moved to the youth team of Germinal Beerschot, where he remained until 2005,[15] when he was noted by Alessandro Beltrami and moved to Italian Serie B club Piacenza. He made his senior debut on 28 May 2006, during a home defeat to Arezzo, being inserted permanently into the first team the following season.

In the 2008–09 campaign, Nainggolan became a starter for the Emilia-Romagna side, playing 38 of 42 games and scoring three goals, which contributed to them avoiding relegation.


On 27 January 2010, Nainggolan was loaned to Cagliari with a buyout clause.[16] He made his Serie A debut on 7 February, playing seven minutes in a 0–3 away loss against Inter Milan.[17] After making seven appearances (including being sent off a few minutes after entering the field on 28 February against Chievo Verona),[18] the club announced it had acquired 50% of his rights in a co-ownership deal.[19]

In the first part of 2010–11, under manager Pierpaolo Bisoli, Nainggolan started often due to the absence of Daniele Conti. On 31 October 2010 he scored his first goal in the Italian top level, from a right-footed volley in a 2–0 home win over Bologna.[20] On 31 January 2011, Cagliari redeemed the second half of his contract from Piacenza.[21]

In early October 2013, after three seasons as an undisputed first-choice,[22] Nainggolan agreed to an extension until 2016.[23] His performances with the Rossoblu made him especially popular among their fans, who named him in a top 11 list comprising the best players in the history of the Sardinian club.[24]


Nainggolan playing for Roma in 2014

On 7 January 2014, Nainggolan was loaned to fellow league team Roma until the end of the campaign for a fee of 3 million, with an option to purchase 50% of his rights in the ensuing summer for €6 million.[25][26] He made his debut two days later, starting in a 1–0 home win over Sampdoria for the Coppa Italia which qualified to the quarter-finals.[27] In the same competition, he also helped dispose of Juventus in said stage by playing the full 90 minutes 12 days later.[28]

On 22 February 2014, Nainggolan scored his first goal for the capital side, grabbing the 1–0 winner against Bologna.[29] His second, which arrived on 19 April against Fiorentina (same result) ensured his team automatic qualification to the UEFA Champions League.[30]

Nainggolan signed a permanent deal with Roma in the 2015 off-season, for €9 million.[31] On 6 July of the following year he renewed his contract until June 2020,[32][33] extending it a further year the following summer.[34]

Inter Milan

On 26 June 2018, Nainggolan signed with Inter Milan for €38 million (€24 million plus Davide Santon and Nicolò Zaniolo, valued at €14 million)[35] until June 2022.[36] He scored in his league debut on 1 September, helping the visitors defeat Bologna 3–0,[37] and just over a month later he netted the equaliser in a 2–1 comeback win at PSV Eindhoven in the Champions League group stage to become the first-ever Belgian to score for the club in the competition.[38][39]

Loans to Cagliari

In August 2019, Nainggolan returned to Cagliari on a season-long loan.[40] He was named the league's MVP for November, with two long-range goals and three assists in three matches to help his team reach fourth place.[41]

Nainggolan returned to the Sardegna Arena on 31 December 2020, again on loan.[42]

International career

Nainggolan in action for Belgium under-21s in 2009

Due to his father's heritage, Nainggolan was eligible to represent both Indonesia and Belgium, but ultimately chose to play for the latter nation.[43] He took part at the 2007–09 International Challenge Trophy finals, a tournament which the under-23 team won.[44]

Nainggolan earned his first senior cap on 29 May 2009, against Chile in the Kirin Cup.[45] He scored his first goal for the Red Devils on 5 March 2014, in a 2–2 friendly draw with Côte d'Ivoire.[30]

On 13 May 2014, Nainggolan was selected in a standby list for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.[46][47] He did not make the final cut, however.

Nainggolan was an undisputed starter for the Marc Wilmots-led Red Devils during the UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying campaign,[48] scoring in an away draw with Bosnia and Herzegovina[49] and a 4–1 win in Andorra as the team qualified for the tournament for the first time in 16 years.[50]

Nainggolan was selected to the finals in France.[51] He made his debut in the tournament on 13 June, playing 62 minutes in a 0–2 loss against Italy.[52] After featuring as a second-half substitute in the second game, a 3–0 defeat of the Republic of Ireland,[53] he returned to the starting XI against Sweden, scoring the game's only goal at the Stade de Nice after a counter-attack to send his country to the knockout stage as second;[54] in the quarter-finals, he netted from 25 metres to put his country ahead against Wales after 12 minutes, but in an eventual 1–3 loss.[55]

On 26 August 2017, aged 29, Nainggolan announced that he would be retiring from international football after not being selected for Belgium's upcoming World Cup qualifiers, and stated that he would be focusing on his club career with Roma.[56][57] However, he was selected by new manager Roberto Martínez for friendlies against Mexico and Japan in November,[58] only to pull out due to injury.[59]

On 21 May 2018, after once again not being picked for the upcoming World Cup in Russia, Nainggolan retired from the international scene.[60]

Style of play

Considered by many experts to be one of the best and most complete midfielders in Europe, due to his ability to aid his team both offensively and defensively, Nainggolan is a quick, dynamic, hard-working, physically strong and versatile midfielder, who is capable of playing in several midfield positions; possessing good vision, passing range, and technique, he is often used as a playmaker in front of his team's defensive line.[61][62][63][64][65][66] He is also known for his attacking drive, ability to get forward and eye for goal from midfield, courtesy of his powerful and accurate striking ability from distance, as well as his movement and ability to make late attacking runs off the ball; his talent, energy, skill, and wide range of attributes led to him being used in a more offensive role as an advanced playmaker behind the two forwards during his time with Cagliari.[62][63][67][68][69][70][71][72][73][74]

Due to his pace, stamina, tenacity and aggressive tackling, as well as his willingness and ability to chase down and press opponents off the ball, Nainggolan is also a good ball-winner, and has frequently been used in a box-to-box role;[61][62][63][67][75][76] he is also capable of playing as a winger.[77] After his move to Roma, he was mainly deployed as a central or defensive midfielder in a 4–3–3 formation or in the "mezzala" role, and on occasion even as a right-back; following the arrival of Luciano Spalletti, however, he returned to playing in a more advanced role as an attacking midfielder or second striker in a 4–2–3–1 or a 3–4–2–1 formation.[62][67][75][76][78][79][80] He has also been used in a more central or attacking role on occasion,[68] or even as a false attacking midfielder.[81]

In addition to his footballing abilities, Nainggolan has also been praised for his leadership in the media,[82] although he has also drawn criticism for his difficult character and his involvement in several controversial incidents off the pitch.[83]

Outside of football

Personal life

Nainggolan married Claudia Lai,[84] with the couple being parents to daughters Aysha (b. 2012) and Mailey (b. 2016).[85] His twin sister, Riana, is also a footballer.[86]

On 10 July 2019, Lai confirmed in an Instagram post that she had been diagnosed with cancer and would begin chemotherapy treatment.[87] On 8 October 2020, it was announced that Nainggolan tested positive for COVID-19 amid its pandemic in Italy.[88]


Nainggolan smoked cigarettes during his playing career.[89] On New Year's Eve 2018, he became the subject of strong controversy in Italy after he posted a video on Instagram cursing, drinking alcohol and smoking.[90]

Career statistics


As of match played 22 May 2021[91][92]
Club Season League National Cup Europe Other Total
Division AppsGoalsAppsGoalsAppsGoalsAppsGoalsAppsGoals
Piacenza 2005–06 Serie B100010
2006–07 100010
2007–08 10010110
2008–09 38310393
2009–10 21110221
Total 71430744
Cagliari 2009–10 Serie A700070
2010–11 36220382
2011–12 37120391
2012–13 34210352
2013–14 17210182
Total 1317601377
Roma (loan) 2013–14 Serie A17230202
Roma 2014–15 3552090465
2015–16 3560070426
2016–17 3711421215314
2017–18 31400112426
Total 155289239320333
Inter Milan 2018–19 Serie A2961061367
2020–21 40001050
Total 3361071417
Cagliari (loan) 2019–20 Serie A26630296
2020–21 22100221
Total 48730517
Career total 428522224640050758


National teamYearAppsGoals
Belgium 200910
As of match played 1 July 2016. Belgium score listed first, score column indicates score after each Nainggolan goal.[93]
List of international goals scored by Radja Nainggolan
No. Date Venue Cap Opponent Score Result Competition
1 5 March 2014King Baudouin, Brussels, Belgium5 Ivory Coast2–02–2Friendly
2 13 October 2014Bilino Polje, Zenica, Bosnia and Herzegovina8 Bosnia and Herzegovina1–11–1UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying
3 7 June 2015Stade de France, Saint-Denis, France11 France3–04–3Friendly
4 10 October 2015Estadi Nacional, Andorra la Vella, Andorra15 Andorra1–04–1UEFA Euro 2016 qualifying
5 22 June 2016Allianz Riviera, Nice, France22 Sweden1–01–0UEFA Euro 2016
6 1 July 2016Stade Pierre-Mauroy, Villeneuve-d'Ascq, France24 Wales1–01–3UEFA Euro 2016



Inter Milan



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