He conquered Belgium, Portugal and Russia, made his riches in China and very nearly took the greatest football prize of them all. FIFA 2018 World Cup bronze medallist Alex Witsel is a real coup for Borussia Dortmund - but how exactly did he get to where he is today?

bundesliga.com finds outs...

1) Chadli's mucker

The son of a father with roots in Martinique and a Belgian mother, Witsel grew up in Vottem, a suburb of Liege, where he met best friend and fellow Belgium star Nacer Chadli. Both started out in the Standard Liege youth ranks, but only Witsel stayed the course. He made his senior debut at the age of 17, and soon became an irreplaceable part of a midfield three that featured Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour.

2) Liege legend

Witsel won the 2007/08 Jupiler League title in his first season as a pro, earning the Belgian Golden Shoe - the prize given to the best player in the Belgian top flight - for his efforts. He backed up that achievement by scoring the decisive penalty in the championship play-off with Anderlecht the following year, only for an unfortunate challenge in which he broke the leg of Marcin Wasilewski to mar an otherwise exemplary opening career chapter.

Axel Witsel helped bring an end to 25 years of hurt for 10-time Belgian champions Liege. © imago

3) Central role at Benfica

A fresh start would present itself two years later in the form of Benfica, where Witsel was remolded from the charismatic winger that had taken his homeland by storm into the industrious central midfielder he is today. Joining the club in 2011, the Belgian excelled as a No.6, underpinning The Eagles' charge to the Primeira Liga title. The only surprise was that he didn't stay longer than one season.

Axel Witsel's time at Benfica was short and sweet in equal measure. © imago

4) East meets Witsel

A four-year stint at Zenit St. Petersburg swelled an already impressive trophy cabinet - Witsel won the Russian Premier League title, the Russian Cup and two Russian Super Cups - before the Far East came calling in January 2017. Turning down the chance to join Juventus, the 96-time Belgium international spent 18 months in the Chinese Super League with Tianjin Quanjian, playing in the same side as former Brazil international Alexander Pato and ex-Cologne goal-getter Anthony Modeste.

Axel Witsel scored 22 goals in 180 appearances for Zenit. © imago

5) Superstitious entrepreneur

As is often the case with elite performers, you don't get to the top without a healthy dose of quirkiness – and Witsel is no exception. His pre-match ritual involves "putting on my clothes from left to right, and the same goes for my boots. It's not luck or anything, it's just my thing." Yet that is not all. The Dortmund No.28 claims his childhood dream was to become an architect, whereas now he is "learning to be a DJ". To top things off, Witsel designs and sells his own colourful baseball caps, branded as the 'AW Snapback collection'.

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