Be honest, you never really rated him.
Borussia Dortmund fans will tell you that Axel Witsel has been a revelation this season.
The 29-year-old is one cap shy of a century for Belgium, yet he was always one of those players who the majority just never seemed to ‘get.’
Witsel has never played in the Premier League and his style is not one that attracts fandom online, so he’s still relatively unknown to an English audience.
It’s our classic naivety, really.
For many, their only exposure to Witsel would have been his international outings for Roberto Martinez’s Belgium – a side for which he is an ever-present.
His tally of 99 appearances for the Red Devils shows just how highly the national team rate him.
Dortmund’s scouts recognised what Witsel could offer a top side and he was subsequently snapped up.
Having been stranded in the footballing abyss of the Chinese Super League for the past year, it was a welcome return to European soil for the 29-year-old.
Witsel’s £20million release clause was triggered and he became a focal point of Dortmund’s side in no time.
Featuring in all seven Bundesliga games for Lucien Favre’s side, as well as their two Champions League encounters, he’s been an ever-present.
The follicly-blessed midfielder has been crucial in Dortmund’s unbeaten start and subsequent rise to 1st in the table.
When asked about Witsel’s impact, Thomas Delaney and Marco Reus both described him as “calm.”
It’s that calming influence that has helped him become Dortmund’s midfield general.
Witsel’s metronome style has given him a pass success ratio of 93% according to WhoScored. The Belgian Sergio Busquets?
Partnered with either Delaney or Mahmoud Dahoud, Witsel keeps things ticking over alongside a more expansive player.
That’s not to say he doesn’t have his moments…
Witsel taking to life in the Bundesliga like a duck to water has been particularly detrimental to German starlet Julian Weigl.
The 23-year-old who also favours a deep-lying midfield role, has been the fall guy of all this.
Those Man City links now seem like a distant memory.
A double pivot that pairs the two of them together is what some Dortmund fans will tell you they want going forward.
That duo have lined up together just once this season – in the 4-3 victory over Augsburg.
But is it progressive enough?
Witsel’s revival from the footballing graveyard of the Chinese Super League should be applauded.
Just when his career looked destined to be drowned in a pool of riches, he swam against the tide.
There’s still time for others to join him too.
CC: Oscar and Talisca.
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