Arsenal reportedly “knocked on the door” of “the Colombus of football” earlier in his career.
That’s according to Thierry Witsel, father of Alex, who moved to Atletico Madrid from Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer in the summer.
The 33-year-old has had an interesting and varied career, playing for Benfica, Zenit St Petersburg and Chinese side Tianjin Tianhai before his move to Dortmund in 2018.
He came through the ranks at Belgian side Standard Liege and it was during his time in the Jupiler Pro League that Arsenal tried to secure his services.
Witsel was keen according to his father, who claimed the Gunners were his son’s “favourite team” at the time.
“He’s the Columbus of football, isn’t he. It is an atypical course in fiery clubs. What makes me proud is that Axel always had the courage to take on the adventure,” Thierry Witsel told Het Belang van Limburg (via Sport Witness).
“Okay, he earned well, but go to Russia or China, hey. That is not so obvious. Yet every country was an enrichment and he integrated well everywhere. In Lisbon he spoke Portuguese quickly, he understands Russian, tried to learn Chinese, knows German and already speaks Spanish.”
Thierry Witsel was also asked whether Diego Simeone’s man regrets anything in his career and if there were other clubs that ever came close to signing him.
“I can name a series, you know. Juventus failed in the last hours of a transfer market, but when he was still playing for Standard, Arsenal knocked on the door. That was his favourite team, but it didn’t come to a deal,” Thierry explained.
“Before that – with the youth – Anderlecht, Ajax and even Real Madrid inquired. Although I wanted Axel to continue playing football close to home in Liège. Regret is not necessary for anything.”
Witsel has played every minute for Diego Simeone’s side both in La Liga and the Champions League this season and will likely play a key role for Belgium in the Qatar World Cup this winter having been a stalwart throughout manager Roberto Martinez’s time in charge of the national side.
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