Axel Witsel is "ready to be a leader" to the fledgling talents crammed into Borussia Dortmund's squad as the summer signing revels in his return to Europe.

Following an 18-month exile in China, Witsel arrived in the Bundesliga to sign a four-year deal with BVB, adding those precious commodities of talent and experience to a Dortmund midfield requiring top-pedigree savoir faire.

The 29-year-old has collected that in a career that has taken him from his hometown club Standard Liege to Benfica and Zenit St. Petersburg before he rejected a switch to Juventus in favour of pursuing his highly lucrative adventure in the Far East.

Watch: Axel Witsel and Borussia Dortmund get off the mark on Matchday 1

Wide-eyed at the youthful brilliance around him, the 96-cap Belgium international now wants to share the responsibility taken by the likes of Mario Götze, the squad's elder statesman Lukasz Piszczek and captain Marco Reus in helping their starlets fulfil their enormous potential.

"I'm ready to be a leader. I'm 29 years old, I'm one of the oldest in the squad. We have a very talented group, but one which is very young," said Witsel, himself a prodigy at Liege where he was named Belgium's Footballer of the Year a decade ago.

"Piszczek is 33. Reus, Götze and me, we're 29. Bürki is 28. The rest are between 18 and 26. Quite frankly, I was surprised when I arrived. I started to speak to some of them, I asked them their age, and to be at Dortmund already at 19, 20 years old, it's brilliant."

Adrenaline rush

While the likes of Christian Pulisic and Jadon Sancho will have the opportunity to pick their new teammate's brains as they seek to make their way to the top of the game, the deal is mutually beneficial for Witsel.

Just as Dortmund's midfield required his finely-tuned talents, so Witsel admitted he had been missing the adrenaline rush provided by top level football; what better place to get a healthy dose of fervour than the passion-fuelled Signal Iduna Park?

"I never thought that one day I'd play in Germany. I didn't hesitate as soon as I got the chance to join Dortmund," said Witsel, who showed in helping his country finish third at this summer's World Cup that his spell in China had not diminished his talents.

"I don't regret my time in China at all. I could have said to myself that I would stay there after the World Cup. I could have signed a new contract there, I didn't. After what we experienced at the World Cup, it was clear in my head: I absolutely wanted to return to Europe, but not just anywhere. I had the ambition of going to a top club. Dortmund came along, I didn't hesitate. To play in full stadiums, the atmosphere, the emotion…I'd missed the top level."

Lucien Favre will hope the season ends in smiles for him and Borussia Dortmund. © gettyimages / SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP

Dortmund had missed a player like him last season too. The off-the-pitch turbulence created by the removal of coach Peter Bosz midway through the campaign did not help a team that was capable of producing goals…at both ends of the pitch.

Only goal difference squeezed Dortmund into the top four last term — bringing with it UEFA Champions League football — but new boss Lucien Favre will be determined to enjoy a smoother season to mark his Bundesliga comeback.

Watch: Lucien Favre's tactical set-up at Borussia Dortmund

If that is to happen, Witsel will play a central role — quite literally — as a pivotal figure in Favre's tactical system, which the new signing has discovered on the opening two Matchdays can make major demands on him.

"During the last two games, I played on my own in front of the back four, which is something I hadn't done for a while. I'm able to do it, but even [with the Belgian national team] we have always played with two in front of the defence," said the man described by Reus as "exactly what we needed".

"Dortmund suits me down to the ground: we're a team that always wants to have possession, we want to play it out from the back cleanly. The style of play suits me."

Thomas Delaney will be working closely with Axel Witsel in Borussia Dortmund's midfield this season. © imago

Though he and Thomas Delaney, a summer arrival from Werder Bremen, have been purchased primarily to stiffen Dortmund's resistance in the middle of the pitch, the midfield generalissimos have also been given licence by Favre to exploit their attacking talents.

'I'm going to improve'

Though Delaney is yet to get off the mark, Witsel sparked Dortmund's come-from-behind DFB Cup win with a goal on his competitive debut, and followed that up with another strike — and a spectacular one at that — in the 4-1 Matchday 1 defeat of RB Leipzig.

"The coach expects more of me in attacking areas and that allows me to go forward often," said Witsel, who — ominously for his Bundesliga opponents — warned he will only get better.

"I had the chance to play at the highest level during international breaks in September, October, November, March and June. Now I'm doing it on a daily basis, each week in games. It's clear I'm going to improve."

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