Former Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Real Madrid target Axel Witsel has found peace, love and harmony at Borussia Dortmund. - © imago images / Revierfoto
Former Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester United and Real Madrid target Axel Witsel has found peace, love and harmony at Borussia Dortmund. - © imago images / Revierfoto
bundesliga

Axel Witsel: "I could have joined Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester United, but Borussia Dortmund felt right"

Axel Witsel has revealed how he turned down the chance to join Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester United in favour of a move to Borussia Dortmund last summer.

Witsel had been playing for Chinese outfit Tianjin Quanjian when he helped Belgium to a third-placed finish at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, but a desire to be closer to his family put some of Europe's top teams on red alert.

Dortmund were one one them, and the 30-year-old says he didn't need much convincing to move to the Signal Iduna Park.

"[Sporting director] Michael Zorc made contact first, followed by [coach] Lucien Favre," Witsel recalled in an interview with spox.com.

"I had other offers, I could have gone to Paris or Manchester, but I had the feeling that I was Dortmund's primary target and it's important to have a good feeling when you go to a new club. After talks with Zorc, Favre and [CEO] Hans-Joachim Watzke, I made my decision.

"Dortmund is a top club and I really wanted to join a top club because at 29 it was perhaps my last chance."

It is an opportunity Witsel has seized with both hands. The former Standard Liege, Benfica, Zenit Saint Petersburg and Tianjin enforcer scored on his Bundesliga debut in August 2018, and went on to make 33 appearances as Dortmund missed out on a first league title since 2012 by a two-point margin.

The Belgian averaged 85 touches per game and boasted a pass completion ratio of 94.4 per cent - the latter being a league-high for a midfielder - and picked up where he left off on Matchday 1 of the new season by registering two assists in BVB's table-topping rout of Augsburg.

"I hate losing the ball," Witsel said of his playing philosophy.

"If if give the ball away two or three times in a game, that's too much. It drives me mad after the game, and I ask myself why it happened.

"I've always been like that, but I always try to stay cool during the game. That's my style."

Watch: How Axel Witsel makes Borussia Dortmund tick

Witsel wasn't always as cool, calm and collected as he is now, however.

"I used to cry on my way home from training because my father was so hard on me," the Dortmund No.28 recalled of his teenage years in the Standard Liege academy.

"It wasn't easy at 16, 17. There are things you couldn't do with your friends. All the training, and then school - it was hard, but I enjoyed it.

"I remember telling my Dad when we were driving past the stadium in Liege one day that I'm going to play there one day. He said I'd have to work hard and always believe in myself to realise my dream - but it worked out."

Witsel has only missed one of a possible 35 Bundesliga matches since joining Dortmund. - 2019 DFL

After turning pro in 2007, Witsel spent five years with Liege, winning two Jupiler League titles, before moving to Benfica.

The 2007/08 Belgian Player of the Year earned something of a journeyman reputation after swapping Portugal's record champions for Russian side Zenit after one season in summer 2012 and transferring to China's Tianjin in January 2017, but says he can envisage staying at Dortmund long into his 30s.

"You can't plan your career," said Witsel, who "could have gone to Real Madrid" before joining Zenit.

"I imagined myself staying at Benfica for five years, but was only there for a year.

"That said, when I came to Dortmund, I already had a plan in mind. I signed a four-year contract, and I want to be at BVB for four years - perhaps even longer.

"I've never known a team with so many young, talented players - and after travelling so much it's the right time for me and my family to stay in one place."