Atletico Madrid coach Diego Simeone asked his sporting director Andrea Berta for a midfielder this summer and he responded by giving him Axel Witsel, a veteran Belgian midfielder with over 600 competitive games behind him, 64 in the Champions League.
Witsel is currently undergoing the famously intense pre-season sessions made famous during the Simeone era at Los Angeles de San Rafael and is soaking up the club’s unique mentality every day. Speaking to Marca in an exclusive interview, he makes a concerted effort to answer each question posed to him in Spanish.
Born in Liege, Witsel came through the youth system at Standard Liege and spent the first five years of his career there. He then spent a season in Portugal with Benfica before heading to Russia with Zenit St. Petersburg and spending the next five years there.
A campaign in China with Tianjin Quanjian followed before a return to Europe with Borussia Dortmund. Witsel, who has 124 caps for the Belgian national team, has spent the last four years in the Bundesliga with Dortmund. He’s an interesting signing.
And he’s already been impressed by the ethos that he’s found since arriving at Atletico. “There was a lot of quality in the team at Dortmund, but here there are top-level players,” Witsel said. “Also, there’s that spirit of sacrifice here that you see in every workout, which is just as important as quality.”