Axel Laurent Angel Lambert Witsel (born 12 January 1989) is a Belgian professional footballer who plays for Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian. 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.
Witsel with Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2016
|Full name||Axel Laurent Angel Lambert Witsel|
|Date of birth||12 January 1989|
|Place of birth||Liège, Belgium|
|Height||1.86 m (6 ft 1 in)|
|2012–2017||Zenit Saint Petersburg||121||(16)|
|* 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.
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. 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. The initial ban until 23 November by the Belgian Football Association, was later reduced on appeal to eight matches.
Witsel signed for Portuguese club Benfica on a five-year deal on 13 July 2011, including a €40 million buyout clause. 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.
He scored the opening goal in a 4–1 thrashing of Vitória de Guimarães in the Taça da Liga on 9 January 2012. 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. 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.
On 3 September 2012, Witsel signed for Zenit Saint Petersburg for €40 million, after signing a five-year contract. 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. He scored his first two goals for the club on 30 November when Zenit brushed aside Spartak Moscow 4–2 at the Luzhniki Stadium. 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.
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. 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. 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. 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.
On 4 March 2017, Witsel made his debut for Quanjian in a 2–0 loss to Guangzhou R&F. 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.
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.
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. 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.
On 13 May 2014, Witsel was named in Belgium's squad for the 2014 FIFA World Cup. He started in midfield in the team's first game of the tournament, a 2–1 win against Algeria in Belo Horizonte.
Witsel also featured in the Belgian squad at UEFA Euro 2016, announced on 31 May 2016. He scored his first tournament goal during the Championships, in a Group E match against the Republic of Ireland.
|1||26 March 2008||King Baudouin Stadium, Brussels, Belgium||1||Morocco||1–2||1–4||Friendly|||
|2||17 November 2009||Stade Louis Dugauguez, Sedan, France||10||Qatar||1–0||2–0|||
|3||9 February 2011||Jules Ottenstadion, Ghent, Belgium||16||Finland||1–1|||
|4||25 March 2011||Ernst-Happel-Stadion, Vienna, Austria||17||Austria||2–0||UEFA Euro 2012 qualification|||
|6||4 September 2014||Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liège, Belgium||52||Australia||Friendly|||
|7||18 June 2016||Nouveau Stade de Bordeaux, Bordeaux, France||69||Republic of Ireland||3–0||UEFA Euro 2016|||
|8||10 October 2016||Estádio Algarve, Faro/Loulé, Portugal||76||Gibraltar||6–0||2018 FIFA World Cup qualification|||
|9||31 August 2017||Stade Maurice Dufrasne, Liège, Belgium||81||3–0||9–0|
|Standard Liège||2006–07||Belgian Pro League||16||2||—||—||1||0||—||17||2|
|Zenit Saint Petersburg||2012–13||Russian Premier League||19||4||3||0||—||9||1||—||31||5|
|Tianjin Quanjian||2017||Chinese Super League||27||4||2||0||—||—||—||29||4|