Witsel y diez másheadlined the Spanish newspaper marca a few days ago. Witsel and ten others. Just to say how smoothly Axel Witsel has integrated with his new club Atlético Madrid. And that as… central defender. Can Witsel do that? Definitely. Is it his best place? No. That became clear in the derby against Real, a match that was marred by racist chants, Atlético condemned the incidents. At speed the Liege had all the trouble in the world with Vinicius and Rodrygo. Not a shame in the least.
“As a defender, I have to sprint more,” Witsel also said position switch was the topic of discussion at the press conference. “In midfield you usually run at the same cadence, while now I have to accelerate and stop more often. Physically I am happy. The preparation was tough. Under Simeone we went to the Madrid mountains, where we trained three times a day. That pays off, I’m fit. I feel good, although I would rather play in midfield. That’s where I’m at my best. (grins) The coach knows that.”
So is Roberto Martinez. The national coach could use good central defenders, since the retirement of Vincent Kompany and Thomas Vermaelen and the problems with Jason Denayer. But he sees Witsel in the back only as an emergency solution, unlike Leander Dendoncker, for example. “You never know what will happen. I can possibly depan, as I do now at Atlético, but I am here as a central midfielder”, Witsel was clear and clear. “Je suis un sixI am a six.”
It is also for this position that Atlético has attracted Witsel. It is the circumstances – ailments with the regular duo Gimenez-Savic – that have ensured that he was pushed back a row. Temporary. he hopes. Again: “I am a midfielder.” He couldn’t emphasize it enough.
It doesn’t help Witsel that he does well in this unusual role: he was voted Player of the Month in August for a reason. Thanks to his above-average football IQ: Witsel reads the game better than others, which of course comes in handy in the center back – just like on ‘the six’. It would also be an asset as a trainer. He nodded: “I’ve always liked the tactical. I already have several degrees. (thinks) I want to stay in the football world. I can’t stop and suddenly disappear. This is my passion.”
That is why Witsel, whose contract with Borussia Dortmund expired, aimed for an absolute top transfer last summer. In his last season he didn’t play everything, after which doubts arose: was he over his top? No, he now proves: “I didn’t surprise myself. Otherwise I would never have signed with a European powerhouse like Atlético Madrid. I wanted to continue playing at Champions League level – preferably for a few more years. Atletico’s offer was perfect.”
Fellow Red Devils opted for a return to the Jupiler Pro League: Jan Vertonghen went to Anderlecht, Toby Alderweireld to Antwerp, Dedryck Boyata to Club Brugge. A transfer to Belgium was not an option for Witsel. “There has been no contact either.”
It is all the better for the national team that he eventually moved to the Primera Division. It is a more highly regarded competition and since Witsel is in the starting lineup every week, he does not risk missing any rhythm. Good thing too: as a controller in midfield, Witsel is invaluable. No one in recent years could give the impression that he could take over the torch. That is why Martinez is not even considering putting Witsel next to Vertonghen and Alderweireld.
Witsel is therefore simply in his usual place against Wales. He does not consider the Nations League a mandatory number. “I want six out of six, if possible to Final Four to get. It will then take place in Belgium: how nice would that not be?”