As he prepares to put pen to paper on a four-year deal with Borussia Dortmund, Belgium international midfielder Axel Witsel has spoken of his delight at joining the Bundesliga giants ahead of the 2018/19 campaign.
"Dortmund are one of the best teams in Europe," the Belgian enthused on BVB-TV. "I think that when you start as a professional, it's always your dream to play in the top leagues, at top clubs, and now I am. I'm 29, but for me it's the best age, because you have more experience. I'm ready to achieve the club's objectives and give my best for the team."
Witsel arrives in Germany after 18 months with Chinese Super League club Tianjin Quanjian. This summer, he played a central role in helping his native Belgium reach the semi-finals of the FIFA World Cup in Russia, where they were narrowly beaten by eventual champions France.
"After the World Cup, it was important for me to come back to Europe," he explained. "I spoke with the coach, and sporting director Michael Zorc, and they showed me support and love, which was really important."
Witsel's switch to North Rhine-Westphalia is set to be made official by FIFA in the coming days, but in the meantime the former Standard Liege and Zenit St Petersburg man has been getting to know his new teammates, and took part in his first training session on Monday.
"On the first day, everything is new, it's a little bit strange," he admitted. "But I got a nice welcome from everybody. Today I already feel better than yesterday, more comfortable, because I've been trying to speak with everybody. I will have to learn German, it's important!"
Learning the lingo off the pitch will not be as important for Witsel as making an impact on it, at least in the short term. Dortmund only qualified for the UEFA Champions League by the skin of their teeth last season – edging Bayer Leverkusen on goal difference – and came in a whopping 29 points down on champions Bayern Munich, who thrashed them 6-0 in Der Klassiker in March.
The Black-and-Yellows have responded by bringing in the highly experienced Lucien Favre as head coach, and will be hoping that Witsel, as one of the summer's marquee signings, can help them finally challenge Bayern for the Bundesliga crown.
"On the pitch, I try to be a leader," Witsel explained. "I have a nickname, 'chaloupe', which is French for a small wooden boat, slow and steady. My friends call me that because I'm always relaxed, never stressed. But I always give the maximum, and I will try to help the team achieve our objectives this season."
Tweet: A word with @axelwitsel28!
Witsel has enjoyed plenty of success in his career, having won two Belgian League titles with Standard and a Russian Premier League crown with Zenit, not to mention the Belgian Cup, the Russian Cup, and the Portuguese League Cup with Benfica. Belgium's 2008 Footballer of the Year will now be hoping that his magic touch can help BVB add a bit more silverware to their trophy cabinet in 2018/19.