If (and right now it’s a very big if) Federico Chiesa leaves Fiorentina this summer, Inter Milan is the only realistic destination because Rocco Commisso has all the righteous fury/pettiness of any good fan. To that end, Giuseppe Marotta wants to use Radja Nainggolan as a makeweight in the move. While the wild Belgian remains a good player, there are 3 obvious reasons why Fiorentina should reject him as part of any deal, as well as one reason they should absolutely bring him in.
While there are plenty of midfielders who remain extremely effective into their later years, il Ninja probably won’t be one. For starters, his skillset relies so much upon his incredible athleticism rather than his technique or intelligence. While that’s not to say that he’s a clumsy or dumb player—he isn’t—his ability to control the engine room is predicated on energy and quickness, and those are two of the first things most players lose to time. As Nainggolan turns 32 next month, this is the moment you could expect physical decline to begin. When you factor in his odometer, which has ticked to a very high number indeed due to his style both on and off the pitch, you have a guy who could fall off very quickly. He looked solid for Cagliari this year, but a lot of that was his long range shooting. While that would certainly be a useful weapon for this Viola side, it may not be enough to justify a place in the team, especially if age and hard living start or continue catching up to him.
I’ll put it bluntly: Ninja likes to party. He’s the frequent subject of handheld videos taken inside clubs. He drinks a lot. He smokes. He loves the ladies. While I’m in no way condemning any of these behaviors, they’re not great for a professional athlete’s shelf life. While his wild man image may be a bit overblown, particularly in light of his decision to return to Sardinia on loan so his wife could be with her family during her chemotherapy (a decision which hints at some sweetness under the tough exterior), he’s the sort of player who needs a very strong dressing room around him to avoid drama. Fiorentina seems to have a pretty good group, but they’re also very young. I don’t think that the kids are so impressionable as to spend every night at the bars because an older teammate does, but that’s also a risk that he could derail the atmosphere of one of the youngest teams in Europe.
3. The current roster
Take a look at Fiorentina’s midfield for next year and you’ll find lots of fun players. Gaetano Castrovilli was Serie A’s biggest breakthrough this year. Sofyan Amrabat is the club’s record signing. Erick Pulgar and Alfred Duncan have proven to be above-average professionals for years. Kevin Agudelo is a raw but exciting prospect. Marco Benassi, for all his mystery, can still bring goals. Forgotten man Szymon Żurkowski could probably do a job at the very least. Adding another central midfielder in Nainggolan would limit opportunities and development for all seven of these players, which is certainly runs against the mid- and long-term interests of the club. Between Castrovilli’s dynamism, Amrabat and Pulgar’s physicality, and Duncan’s all-around talent, all Ninja would add is long-range shooting. While that’s a useful skill indeed, it’s not enough.
But on the other hand...