Club: Cagliari (Italy)
Age: 23 (04/05/88)
Previous Clubs: Germinal Beerschot, Piacenza (Italy)
International debut: May 2009, v Chile
Caps: 2 (0 goals)
Talent and will are not always enough to make the grade in football; sometimes a young player needs a coach with insight to put him on the right path. And that was very much the case with Radja Nainggolan, who was treading water until Mario Somma, his coach at Italian Serie B side Piacenza ordered him to stop operating as a second striker or playmaker three years ago and instead gave him a new on-pitch persona: that of an all-purpose midfielder.
Bought in 2005 by Piacenza from famous old Belgian club Germinal Beerschot, Nainggolan initially had severe reservations about the change of role. But ultimately he did as he was told and within a couple of months he was producing five-star performances on a regular basis, catching the eye with his stamina, fiery tackling, tactical sense and impressive passing.
"I made him think again as to what his strengths and weaknesses were," says Somma. "However, I must stress that if he's turned into a great prospect it's mostly because he realised that he had the tools to become a much more complete player. It was his choice to work so hard on improving his game."
The son of a Belgian mother and an Indonesian father, Nainggolan was snapped up by Cagliari in early 2010 and his star has continued to rise.
During the recent transfer window, the 23-year-old was a major transfer target for Juventus, only for Cagliari president Massimo Cellino to stubbornly pull down the shutters.
"I fancy Radja will one day play for Real Madrid," predicts Cellino. "But for the moment the status quo is the best position. He doesn't want to go and we don't want to sell."