The following text is translated from this month’s Rolling Stone interview with Radja Nainggolan:
27 years old, elegant midfielder, able to take the ball from anyone. Radja Nainggolan wears the Roma jersey, and they call him the “Ninja.” Born in Antwerp to a Belgian mother and an Indonesian father who ran away, Nainggolan was very much a street footballer. A crest always varying on his head and 50 tattoos all over his body, he has the appearance of a warrior, and is always in good spirits with the Roma fans. For how strong he is on the field, it doesn’t need to be said that he a great guy off the field.
This summer, something came out showing you partying in ibiza. What happened?
It’s all being exaggerated. It was a beautiful evening. It was a party that started out on the beach and we moved onto the club.
Are you still a “soccer player of the disco?” You have a wife and child now.
Yes, I am still. I don’t want to just stay home every night like others do; house-field-house-field-house-field. I think in the right moments you should enjoy your life, and sometimes lash out a bit.
Has the club or fans ever given you any problem about this?
No, never. It’s because I’ve chosen the right moments to enjoy myself.
This year you were seen at a concert for Snoop Dogg and Stromae.
You know a lot about me… Stromae I knew from Belgium, from a videoclip before World Cup 2014. The Snoop Dogg tickets were given to me as a gift, so I went.
Is that the type of music you listen to most?
Yeah, it’s more relaxing for me than the “bum bum” of house music.
You were born in Antwerp, the city of fashion and music.
Yes, but I don’t have time to return right now, it’s better when I am on national team duty. It’s a very lively city, more diverse than Milan or Rome. Well, it’s a bit colder too. If you ask me where I’m from, I’ll always say Antwerp, because it’s where I grew up. But I think my future will be in Italy, I have too many ties to this country now.
This summer you returned to Indonesia, the land of your father.
I knew my father very little, but even so, it was a great experience. I was happy to go there on tour with the team. I was there last year also, in three or four cities, in the richer places as well as the poorer, with homeless people living outside on the road.
When did you start to play like the Nainggolan we see?
I’ve always played like this. When I was little I played more offensive roles, because kids always want to score goals. But I was a player who fought for everything, and I never stopped, not even now that I play in a great squad.
In these past years you’ve come to understand that there is a rapport between the which you are on field and the way you live off the field?
I realize that if things to well on the field, they go well of the field. Off the field, I don’t cause any problems, not to anyone. I live my life, I have fun and enjoy.
On the field, can the grinta solve everything?
I like players like this. But still it’s important to play next to more technical players, who are also able.
Therefore, the grinta is important in the locker room.
I am one who gets along with everyone in the locker room. But on the field, I only want to win, and there can be some bickering between those who aren’t following this. Everything finishes there. When there is something to say, say it calmly.
It’s better to talk about it.
Yes, because the team can better itself all together. Otherwise it’s all faking, and teams who fake don’t win.
You know a lot of players who are “fake,” like you say?
I don’t know about others, I speak only for myself. When I play small matches with friends, I want to win. And unfortunately, when it doesn’t go well, I want it to be understood by all involved.”
“Unfortunately,” you say? You are one who speaks out on Twitter.
Twitter is important for being in contact with the fans. It’s true, sometimes I respond to the provocations. I should be respected, as a footballer and as a person.
Is it really you on Twitter?
I do it all.
Once you were insulted by the head of the Curva.
It’s not just Rome, everywhere they damn you. And if you leave the field losing, it’s no good. A team is like a family, you are everyday together, living together… If they insult my teammate, I defend him. I will go to war for my teammates, it’s what I do when we are winning and also when we are losing.
The tattoos and the crest are like your costume? Would you have them even if you didn’t become famous?
I can’t say. When I played for Piacenza, when I wasn’t famous, I started getting tattoos on my arm. Maybe at the start I didn’t think to get so many, but when you start doing it, more becomes automatic.
Last year you joined in the protests against homophobia, wearing rainbow laces.
It’s nothing unusual, My twin sister Riana was with a woman, I see her happy, and I accept her happiness. For me it’s important that you feel good and live as you think.
Riana plays calcio, and lives with you at Casal Palocco. Do you ever go into the city center?
I know all the local places, but if someone notices me, I’m dead. I like to shop though, and take walks in the city center.
I know that when you played for Cagliari you lived in a small town.
It was a bit like where I live now. Everyone knew each other at the bar (cafe), and we greeted each other.
Did the conversations come to football?
No no! At the bar, I’m quiet.