New arrival Axel Witsel wants to play a key role in Borussia Dortmund's 2018/19 season. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Oliver Hardt
New arrival Axel Witsel wants to play a key role in Borussia Dortmund's 2018/19 season. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Oliver Hardt

Axel Witsel: 'I am ready to be a Borussia Dortmund leader'


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?

- © gettyimages / SASCHA SCHUERMANN/AFP

"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."

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."

- © imago

Related news