Radja Nainggolan has pushed back against his “bad boy” reputation, declaring himself a “normal person” and prideful of his origins.
The Inter midfielder’s strong personality has made him both a fan-favourite and a target for criticism over the years.
His smoking habit has also earned him a rebuke, given his profession, and, combined with his reputation, may have played a role in his exclusion from Belgium’s World Cup squad this past summer.
Regardless, Nainggolan has taken the time to hit back at the negative press against him, as well as addressing his smoking and drinking, declaring it is fine for a player to do both, even if they do not have a typical job.
“I can tell you that I am just a normal person and not a bad boy as many people label me,” Nainggolan told France Football. “I can walk about in the worst neighbourhoods and live in a normal way. I can accept the favours that are given to the players, but it does not mean that I look for them.
“I shop at the supermarket, I can drink and smoke a cigarette with serenity. Even a footballer can smoke, even if they do not have a ‘normal’ job.”
Nainggolan grew up in Antwerp in a single parent household, under difficult circumstances, before moving to Italian club Piacenza in 2005.
The retired Belgium international reflected on those early days, and noted his desire to provide for his whole family is inspired by his late mother.
“In the early days at Piacenza I earned a thousand euros a month but for me and my family that was a lot,” he added. “I try to ensure a good standard of living for all my family members. I am inspired by my mother. She was the most important person in my life, she had nothing but she gave me everything by making a lot of sacrifices.
“I have a strong bond with my twin sister, she is homosexual and happy and that is enough for me.”
The midfielder also discussed how he considers himself as a player, believing himself to be “Italian” after spending his career there with Piacenza, Cagliari and Roma.
While he doesn’t consider himself the master at any individual skills, Nainggolan thinks of himself as a valuable jack of tall trades.
“I am very proud of my origins even if they did not allow me to have an easy life,” he said. “I feel originally from Antwerp while as a player I consider myself to be Italian from both a technical and tactical point of view.
“I have many qualities but I do not excel in any. My style allows me to give everything for my team-mates.”