Martinez: I love the way Radja plays football
Roberto Martinez has insisted he doesn’t have a problem with Radja Nainggolan but stated that the combative midfield must prove himself worthy of a Belgium recall.
Martinez included Nainggolan in his maiden 25-man selection, but injury ruled the Roma No4 out of October’s 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia™ qualifiers against Bosnia-Herzegovina and Gibraltar.
Les Diables Rouges won those matches emphatically, 4-0 and 6-0 respectively, and that prompted the Spaniard to overlook the 28-year-old for their most recent games against the Netherlands and Estonia – a decision Nainggolan called “strange”.
Martinez said: "I have no personal problems with Radja. He is an excellent player, I love the way he plays football. He has done nothing wrong, but others did better than he had.
"We scored ten goals and conceded zero in those games he missed. That tells you the players did well and, therefore, a lot of them retained their places. He didn’t play against Bosnia, so it’s normal that he must work harder to convince me to recall him.
"I certainly have no problem with Radja. The door remains open to him, but he must earn his place. In Belgium there are not 25, but 50 players who are in with a chance. It’s really competitive.
“I have already arranged to go and watch all the players . On December the 10th I’ll travel to Italy to watch Nainggolan play (for Roma against AC Milan).”
Nainggolan has long been a polarising figure in Belgium. Despite being regarded as one of the best defensive midfielders on the planet, then-coach Marc Wilmots didn’t take him to Brazil 2014. The former Piacenza and Cagliari man, who has never played club football outside Italy, scored twice at UEFA EURO 2016, including a scorching swerver against Wales in the quarter-finals.
Belgium lead Group H in Russia 2018 qualifying, two points above Greece and five clear of third-placed Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Only Brazil (20), Germany (18), Italy (18), Argentina (16), Mexico (15), England (14), France (14) and Spain (14) have participated in more World Cups than Belgium (12). Their best performance came in 1986, when Jean-Marie Pfaff, Eric Gerets, Jan Ceulemans, Enzo Scifo and Co edged Soviet Union 4-3 after extra time in the Round of 16 in one of the competition’s greatest-ever matches. Les Diables Rouges then eliminated Spain on penalties before losing to a Diego Maradona-inspired Argentina in the semi-finals.