What does Radja Nainggolan mean for Roma's midfield?

Posted by Julian De Martinis

Today Roma finally made official a deal that seemed to be coming since last summer, prying Radja Nainggolan from Cagliari on loan for three million euros. The club has an option to take the player on co-ownership for an additional six million this summer and also states that his contract is a four-year one, signifying that the intention is certainly there to take that option.

With Nainggolan, Roma gain another midfielder who’s having a solid year. According to WhoScored, he’s currently averaging 3.1 shots, 1.2 key passes, 1.4 successful dribbles and commits less than a turnover per match. He brings another dimension of depth to the side, perhaps allowing Michael Bradley to fill in for Kevin Strootman, or Daniele De Rossi while he takes over for Miralem Pjanic as needed.

Or will he? By the summer it seems inevitable that he will be co-owned by Roma, and nine million euros for half a player can seem quite steep. What exactly might Nainggolan’s transfer mean for the side?

Kevin Strootman or Miralem Pjanic are leaving this summer

The rumor mill is quickly churning here, under the argument that Nainggolan is being brought in as midfield depth now and will be a long-term signing once Strootman or Pjanic leave this summer. There seem to be a few issues with this theory, though certainly stranger things have happened in calcio. Most websites reported that Pjanic was on the verge of an extension just days ago, and Strootman has proven so integral to the midfield that it would seem foolish to turn him over to another club after just one season. Furthermore, if Walter Sabatini saw the need for more depth during a season where Roma have no European aspirations, why let one of their best midfielders go when European qualification for next season seems certainly attainable and the side will be in need of reinforcements anyway?

Michael Bradley is leaving this month

This seems the more likely departure rumor. Bradley has found himself relegated to fourth choice in the midfield this season and would be desperate for playing time ahead of the World Cup this summer. With Nainggolan on the squad, he may be even further down the totem pole and could seek a move in order to stay in Jurgen Klinsmann’s plans. Certainly, losing Bradley would be far less of a blow for Roma than losing either Pjanic or Strootman, so if someone has to leave to make room for Nainggolan, the American would be a less damaging sacrificial lamb.

More depth

The simplest answer would merely be that Sabatini and James Pallotta are doing what they can to ensure the side has enough depth to maintain a good run of form this season, qualify for Europe, and have a squad deep enough to compete in two competitions next summer. The counterargument here is what happened to the club last summer, with Erik Lamela and Marquinhos departing. The key there, of course, was the mega offers that the club received for both players, the money needed due to failing to make Europe, and the desire of Sabatini to bring in more established players after two summers during which promise never transformed into results on the pitch. If Roma are serious about being a top side, this option is the most likely.

For the time being, the true answer may not be known until the summer (unless Bradley does indeed leave this month). What is known, however, is that Roma have picked up a very decent midfielder with Serie A experience at an immediate price of only three million euros. If Nainggolan helps the side continue their exceptional season, that will be money well spent.

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