The return of the the ninja was arguably one of the least expected yet highly appreciated deals of the summer, although very few predicted the impact that Radja Nainggolan would have upon his return to Cagliari.
The tenacious midfielder signed for the Casteddu following a somewhat stop-start spell at Inter in a move that was sealed more due to affairs off the pitch as oppose to what he could offer on it.
Following the discovery that his wife had fallen ill the Belgian International decided on a move to Sardegna as he aimed to provide stability for his family in familiar surroundings during a time of need.
Despite matters in his personal life swaying his decision, many fans criticised the combative central midfielder, questioning his desire to play and worrying that his head would not be on the game.
Fast forward ten rounds and he is already laying any doubts to rest, showing signs of the form that earned him the nickname, plus an outstanding contender for goal of the season when he smashed home a perfectly struck volley versus SPAL at the Sardegna Arena.
A fan favourite – the roar louder then any as his name was read out on the team sheet before Cagliari faced Bologna on Wednesday evening – in a game which saw Nainggolan don the captain’s armband in the absence of the injured Luca Ceppitelli. A show of faith from coach Rolando Maran.
The midfielder hurried and harassed the opposition, snapping into tackles and also offering quality in possession as a somewhat experimental line-up resulted in him playing in an advanced midfield role, pressing high when his side weren’t in possession and often finding himself form part of a front three with Joao Pedro and Giovanni Simeone.
He produced a fine assist for Giovanni Simeone and very nearly scored another screamer as he unleashed a ballistic missile of a freekick, only for it to be palmed away by the keeper. As he grew into the game, he enjoyed more and more freedom as Bologna began to tire.
Nainggolan is much, much more than just a play-breaker and with a much freer role for the Sardinian side it could be the season that he becomes one of Europe’s elite midfielders once again as he’s offered the chance to roam.
Should the ex-Roma man rediscover his best form then there’s no doubt that he possesses the quality to walk in to most teams in the world, much to the delight of Cagliari and their fans, who despite it being early days are already beginning to dream of European football.
Premature may it be, but Nainggolan and his side are beginning to make the Sardegna Arena a very tough place to visit as they continue to impress with a free-flowing style of football.