Axel Witsel

Axel Laurent Angel Lambert Witsel (born 12 January 1989) is a Belgian professional footballer who plays for Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian.[3][4] During his play for the Belgium national team, he came into the first team as a right-winger, and can also play attacking midfielder, though his natural position is as a central midfielder.

He began his career at hometown club Standard Liège, making 183 appearances and scoring 42 goals while winning five domestic trophies. He was awarded the Belgian Golden Shoe in 2008. After a season in Portugal with S.L. Benfica, he signed for Zenit Saint Petersburg for a €40 million fee in 2012. Witsel won four honours during his time in Russia, before leaving for Tianjin Quanjian in January 2017.

He made his senior international debut in 2008 and has earned over 85 caps for Belgium, representing the country at the 2014 FIFA World Cup and UEFA Euro 2016.

Axel Witsel
Zenit-AZ (10)
Witsel with Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2016
Personal information
Full name Axel Laurent Angel Lambert Witsel[1]
Date of birth 12 January 1989 (age 29)
Place of birth Liège, Belgium
Height 1.86 m (6 ft 1 in)[2]
Playing position Midfielder
Club information
Current team
Tianjin Quanjian
Number 28
Youth career
2004–2006 Standard Liège
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
2006–2011 Standard Liège 148 (34)
2011–2012 Benfica 32 (1)
2012–2017 Zenit Saint Petersburg 121 (16)
2017– Tianjin Quanjian 33 (5)
National team
2004 Belgium U15 1 (0)
2005 Belgium U16 2 (0)
2005–2006 Belgium U17 19 (0)
2006–2007 Belgium U18 5 (0)
2006 Belgium U19 3 (0)
2007–2009 Belgium U21 10 (0)
2008– Belgium 88 (9)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only and correct as of 13 April 2018.
‡ National team caps and goals correct as of 27 March 2018.

Club career

Standard Liège

On 17 September 2006, a 17-year-old Witsel made his debut with Standard Liège during a competitive game against FC Brussels when he replaced Steven Defour in the 89th minute. Eleven days later, he made his European debut as a substitute.

During the 2007–08 season, at 18 years of age, he was a key member in the squad of Standard Liège, winners of the Belgian League title that year. During this year, he formed a very young midfield together with other Belgian talents Defour and Marouane Fellaini. In the following season, he scored the winning goal from the penalty spot in a two-legged playoff to decide the championship.

On 30 August 2009, Witsel sparked controversy when he broke Marcin Wasilewski's leg by stamping on his ankle during the match between Anderlecht and Standard.[5][6] Following the tackle, Witsel protested the red card, claiming that it was an accident without intent, before being sent off the pitch. He soon apologised, but was the subject of criticism from several media outlets and numerous death threats from angry Anderlecht and Poland fans.[7] The initial ban until 23 November by the Belgian Football Association,[8] was later reduced on appeal to eight matches.[9]

Benfica

Witsel signed for Portuguese club Benfica on a five-year deal on 13 July 2011, including a €40 million buyout clause.[10] Witsel scored twice in the 3–1 win against FC Twente, in the Champions League play-off second leg, on 24 August 2011, sending Benfica to the group stages with a 5–3 aggregate victory.[11]

Axel Witsel
Witsel playing for Benfica against Zenit in 2012

He scored the opening goal in a 4–1 thrashing of Vitória de Guimarães in the Taça da Liga on 9 January 2012.[12] He then assisted Nolito in a 4–1 league defeat of Vitória de Setúbal. Witsel scored his fourth goal against Santa Clara on 18 January in a Taça da Liga match.[13] Benfica reached the final on 14 April against Gil Vicente and Witsel was awarded the Man of the Match award as Benfica claimed their fourth Taça da Liga title with a 2–1 victory.[14]

Zenit Saint Petersburg

On 3 September 2012, Witsel signed for Zenit Saint Petersburg for €40 million, after signing a five-year contract.[15][16] Witsel made his debut in the Russian Premier League on 14 September, replacing Konstantin Zyryanov in the 70th minute as Zenit fell 2–0 to Terek Grozny.[17] He scored his first two goals for the club on 30 November when Zenit brushed aside Spartak Moscow 4–2 at the Luzhniki Stadium.[18] Witsel scored Zenit's winner against Terek Grozny on 30 March 2013, an eighth-minute strike, as his side cruised to a 3–0 league victory.[19]

In Zenit's first match of the 2014–15 UEFA Champions League group stage on 16 September 2014, Witsel scored Zenit's second goal in a 2–0 away victory over former club Benfica.[20] After finishing third in their Champions League group, Zenit were parachuted into the Europa League knockout phase; in the first leg of their Round of 16 clash against Torino on 12 March 2015, Witsel scored on a rebound as Zenit defeated the Italian club 2–0.[21] On 26 April, Witsel scored the game's only goal in the seventeenth minute as Zenit defeated Arsenal Tula in a league match at the Petrovskiy Stadium.[22] On Sunday 17 May, Witsel played the full 90 minutes as Zenit drew 1–1 with FC Ufa, earning the point they needed to secure the Premier League crown, the club's fourth overall and Witsel's first with Zenit.[23]

In the 2015 Russian Super Cup on 12 July 2015, Witsel converted his penalty shot in a 4–2 penalty shoot-out victory over FC Lokomotiv Moscow after the match had finished 1–1.[24]

Tianjin Quanjian

On 3 January 2017, Zenit officially announced that Witsel has moved to Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian.[3]

On 4 March 2017, Witsel made his debut for Quanjian in a 2–0 loss to Guangzhou R&F.[25] A week later he scored the club's first ever goal in the Chinese Super League during a 1–1 draw with Shanghai Greenland Shenhua.[26]

International career

Axel Witsel Belgium
Witsel with Belgium in 2011

Prior to making his international debut for the senior side, he played for the under-21 side in 2007 earning nine caps as well as helping his side reach the semi-finals of the 2007 UEFA European Under-21 Football Championship.

On 26 March 2008, Witsel made his international debut during a friendly game against Morocco. The match resulted in a 1–4 loss, but Witsel scored his first goal for Belgium.[27]

Witsel's first goal in an competitive international match came a day short of three years after the Morocco goal, in the sixth minute against Austria in Group A of the UEFA Euro 2012 qualifying process, and his second would come in the second half.[28] However, Belgian hopes of qualifying for UEFA Euro 2012 were dashed on 11 October 2011, by defeat to Germany coupled with Turkey's victory over Azerbaijan.[29]

On 13 May 2014, Witsel was named in Belgium's squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.[30] He started in midfield in the team's first game of the tournament, a 2–1 win against Algeria in Belo Horizonte.[31]

Witsel also featured in the Belgian squad at UEFA Euro 2016, announced on 31 May 2016.[32] He scored his first tournament goal during the Championships, in a Group E match against the Republic of Ireland.[33]

International goals

As of match played 31 August 2017. Belgium score listed first, score column indicates score after each Witsel goal.[34]
International goals by date, venue, cap, opponent, score, result and competition
No. Date Venue Cap Opponent Score Result Competition Ref
1 26 March 2008 King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium 1  Morocco 1–2 1–4 Friendly [27]
2 17 November 2009 Stade Louis Dugauguez, Sedan, France 10  Qatar 1–0 2–0 [35]
3 9 February 2011 Jules Ottenstadion, Ghent, Belgium 16  Finland 1–1 [36]
4 25 March 2011 Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, Austria 17  Austria 2–0 UEFA Euro 2012 qualification [28]
5 2–0
6 4 September 2014 Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liège, Belgium 52  Australia Friendly [37]
7 18 June 2016 Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France 69  Republic of Ireland 3–0 UEFA Euro 2016 [33]
8 10 October 2016 Estádio Algarve, Faro/Loulé, Portugal 76  Gibraltar 6–0 2018 FIFA World Cup qualification [38]
9 31 August 2017 Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liège, Belgium 81 3–0 9–0

Career statistics

Club

As of match played 13 April 2018
Dundolk-Zenit (9)
Witsel in UEFA Europa League action for Zenit, facing Dundalk in 2016
Club Season League Cup League Cup Continental Other Total
Division Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Standard Liège 2006–07 Belgian Pro League 16 2 1 0 17 2
2007–08 33 7 3 1 36 8
2008–09 35 8 10 1 1 0 46 9
2009–10 27 5 1 1 12 4 1 1 41 11
2010–11 37 10 6 2 43 12
Total 148 32 7 3 0 0 26 6 2 1 183 42
Benfica 2011–12 Primeira Liga 29 1 4 2 2 0 14 2 49 5
Total 29 1 4 2 2 0 14 2 0 0 49 5
Zenit Saint Petersburg 2012–13 Russian Premier League 19 4 3 0 9 1 31 5
2013–14 29 4 1 0 11 0 1 0 42 4
2014–15 28 4 1 0 13 2 42 6
2015–16 29 3 4 2 7 1 1 0 41 6
2016–17 16 1 1 0 6 0 0 0 23 1
Total 121 16 10 2 0 0 46 4 2 0 179 22
Tianjin Quanjian 2017 Chinese Super League 27 4 2 0 29 4
2018 6 1 0 0 6 0 12 1
Total 33 5 2 0 6 0 0 0 41 5
Career total 331 54 23 7 2 0 92 12 4 1 452 74
2017 RUS v BEL exhibition - Axel Witsel
Witsel warming up on international duty, 2017

International

As of 27 March 2018[34]
National team Year Apps Goals
Belgium
2008 7 1
2009 3 1
2010 5 0
2011 11 3
2012 8 0
2013 10 0
2014 10 1
2015 9 0
2016 15 2
2017 7 1
2018 1 0
Total 88 9

Honours

Club

Zenit celebrating (7)
Witsel kissing the Russian Premier League trophy, 2015
Standard Liege[39]
Benfica
Zenit

Individual

Personal life

In June 2015, Witsel married his longtime girlfriend, the Romanian-Hungarian, Rafaella Szabo, with whom he has two children.[40][41]

References

  1. ^ "Conselho de disciplina" [Disciplinary board] (PDF). Portuguese Football Federation (in Portuguese). 23 March 2012. p. 3. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  2. ^ "Site officiel du Standard de Liège – Accueil". Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  3. ^ a b "Witsel will continue his career in China" (in Russian). FC Zenit Saint Petersburg. 3 January 2017.
  4. ^ "Stats Centre: Axel Witsel Facts". Guardian.co.uk. Archived from the original on 2 October 2012. Retrieved 29 June 2009.
  5. ^ "Witsel breekt been van Wasilewski in tackle". Sporza. Archived from the original on 1 September 2009. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  6. ^ "Anderlecht-Standard faute d'Axel Witsel sur Wasilewski". YouTube. Retrieved 31 August 2009.
  7. ^ "Standard Liege Stars Defour & Witsel Receive Death Threats - Report - Goal.com". 1 September 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  8. ^ "Standard Liege midfielder Axel Witsel banned for horror tackle". MirrorFootball. 1 September 2009. Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  9. ^ "Yahoo UK & Ireland – Sports News – Live Scores – Results". Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  10. ^ "Benfica sign Witsel". ESPNFC. 14 July 2011.
  11. ^ "Witsel delivers as Benfica oust Twente". UEFA. 24 August 2011.
  12. ^ "V.Guimarães 1–4 Benfica". LPFP. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  13. ^ "Benfica 2–0 Sta. Clara". LPFP. Retrieved 3 December 2012.
  14. ^ "Witsel foi o Man of The Match". LPFP. 15 April 2012.
  15. ^ "Официальный сайт ФК "Зенит"". Retrieved 26 June 2016.
  16. ^ "Comunicado" [Announcement] (PDF) (in Portuguese). CMVM. 3 September 2012. Retrieved 31 December 2014.
  17. ^ "Zenit 0 – 2 Terek Grozny". ESPNFC. 14 September 2012.
  18. ^ "Spartak Moscow 2 – 4 Zenit St Petersburg". ESPNFC. 30 November 2012.
  19. ^ "Terek Grozny 0–3 Zenit St. Petersburg". ESPNFC. 30 March 2013.
  20. ^ "Familiar Zenit faces come back to haunt Benfica". UEFA. 16 September 2014. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  21. ^ "Zenit ease to victory over ten-man Torino". UEFA. 12 March 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  22. ^ "Zenit St Petersburg 1–0 FC Arsenal Tula". Yahoo Sports!. 26 April 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  23. ^ "Andre Villas-Boas leads Zenit St Petersburg to Russian Premier League title after ill-fated spells at Chelsea and Tottenham". Daily Mail. 17 May 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  24. ^ "Суперкубок России по футболу 2015, Финал". RFPL (in Russian). 12 July 2015. Retrieved 17 July 2015.
  25. ^ "Alexandre Pato struggles as Tianjin Quanjian slump vs. Guangzhou R&F". ESPN. 4 March 2017.
  26. ^ "Witsel scores Quanjian's maiden CSL goal". MSN. 11 March 2017.
  27. ^ a b "Axel Witsel marque, Stijn Stijnen se troue deux fois". Le Soir (in French). 27 March 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  28. ^ a b "Witsel bezorgt Rode Duivels zege van de hoop". Sporza (in Dutch). 25 March 2011. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  29. ^ Potter, Steffen (11 October 2011). "Germany stamp out Belgium's fire". uefa.com. Union of European Football Associations. Retrieved 24 January 2018.
  30. ^ "Adnan Januzaj included in Belgium's World Cup squad". BBC Sport. 13 May 2014. Retrieved 15 May 2014.
  31. ^ Chowdhury, Saj (17 June 2014). "Belgium 2–1 Algeria". BBC Sport. Retrieved 17 June 2014.
  32. ^ BelgianRedDevils [@@BelRedDevils] (31 May 2016). ".OFFICIAL ! Our final #Euro2016 squad list & numbers ! #TousenFrance" (Tweet). Retrieved 24 January 2018 – via Twitter.
  33. ^ a b Lowe, Sid (18 June 2016). "Belgium get going as Romelu Lukaku punishes Republic of Ireland". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  34. ^ a b "Axel Witsel". Royal Belgian Football Association. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  35. ^ "Victoire des Diables face au Qatar (0–2)". La Dernière Heure (in French). 17 November 2009. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  36. ^ Da Silva, Christophe (9 February 2011). "Rode Duivels gooien verdiende winst weer weg in blessuretijd". Het Laatste Nieuws (in Dutch). Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  37. ^ Lynch, Michael (5 September 2014). "Socceroos easily beaten by Belgium in friendly". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 4 December 2014.
  38. ^ "Christian Benteke historic goal, hat trick help Belgium beat Gibraltar". ESPN FC. Entertainment and Sports Programming Network. 10 October 2016. Retrieved 14 October 2016.
  39. ^ a b c "A. Witsel". Soccerway. Retrieved 17 March 2015.
  40. ^ "Axel Witsel en très charmante compagnie". La Dernière Heure (in French). 23 October 2012. Retrieved 23 April 2014.
  41. ^ "Axel & Rafaella Witsel éblouissants lors de leur mariage religieux". Sudinfo.be (in French). 13 June 2015.

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