Tuesday 7 February 2023 Dublin: 6°C
Riccardo De Luca
# Old habits
'It's true, I smoke. Sometimes it's because I drink or I'm late, but I'm not the only one'
Radja Nainggolan has changed his mind after explosively retiring from Belgium duty last week.

HE HAS OCCASIONALLY been linked with the Red Devils as well as Chelsea, but for the moment, Roma midfielder Radja Nainggolan is preoccupied with his Rode Duivels career, or lack thereof.

The box-to-box sensation said last week he was ‘about to explode’ when national team manager Roberto Martinez overlooked him for his squad to face Gibraltar and Greece in Belgium’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers, with young Monaco recruit Yuri Tielemans and Axel Witsel – currently plying his trade in the Chinese Super League – favoured over the bona fide Serie A star.

Nainggolan has not been a regular starter for Belgium since Martinez’s appointment last year and the 29-year-old explosively retired from international football shortly after receiving a phonecall from the Spaniard just an hour in advance of his squad announcement, in which Martinez informed the Roma talisman that he was ‘not focused enough on playing for the Red Devils during the World Cup matches in June.’

Speaking to Belgian publication HLN four days removed from his denouncing of Martinez’s snub, Nainggolan confirmed he had reversed his decision; ultimately, he couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on a second World Cup, having only made the standby list for Brazil 2014.

He also revealed how his off-field habits have created a perception of him in the eyes of Martinez which he contends, given his effort, is wholly unfair.

“I was thinking of saying goodbye to the national team, then talking to [Roma] director Monchi I decided to be available,” Nainggolan said. “He told me, ‘You have to play the World Cup.’ And I would do it, though I start to fear that it will be difficult and I would be so sorry to miss the second World Cup in a row. Together with the Champions League, it’s the nicest thing there is.

I am a player who has always been 120%, and a person available to everyone. I’m not a rebel; I smoke, that’s true. [I miss out] because I smoke, but I’m not the only one, then because I’m not focused or I’m late, but in this case I’m not the only one to miss a minute. It’s always things outside of sport that make me miss out on the national team.

“Meanwhile,” Nainggolan continues, “I’ve never hidden my lifestyle and I’m not ashamed of it. I’m one who always says what he thinks. My teammates know I’m not one who creates problems, though they cannot go against the coach now. But my performance with Roma is good.

“If it was a tactical problem, Martinez must only tell me, but after 13 years in Italy I do not think I have any problems in this regard.”

On the subject of tactics, he casts his mind back to Belgium’s 3-0 friendly victory over France in Paris last year: “Against France I played almost in defense and then scored from 30 meters.”

“The coach said that to be called we had to play in our clubs. I’m not angry with Tielemans or Witsel, they are good players, but I’m talking about the principle: If the ball is yellow then it can not To become suddenly red.”

One thing for certain, however, is that Nainggolan is available for Belgium selection should be called upon.

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“After missing the World Cup in Brazil,” he says, “I do not want to find myself thinking I could have played in two World Cups and I did not.”

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