FC Zenit St Petersburg v FC Lokomotiv Moscow
Features, Player Features

Axel Witsel to join Juventus?

August 8, 2016 - 11:12 am

As the Pogba story continues to bore and drag inexorably towards a finale fit for an audience of trainee clowns, I am feeling a suspicion creep up my spine. For Beppe and Fabio have too much class to have been on the edge of their seats, waiting to act if need be, holding each other close whilst praying to the lords of the underworld that our gallic gladiator will remain, and if not, squealing in unison out of fear for the bleakest of futures after such an explosion of agony. No. This is not the case. Deadlines were set, and they have since passed. Nothing has remained in the balance but the fees. Our targets are within our grasp and we are well prepared.

Pogba is a special player. His talents are mainly offensive. Yes yes! He is capable of nicking the ball, of intercepting, yet his major strengths are flair, powerful shooting from outside the box, dribbling whilst protecting the ball with his physical prowess and intelligent passing both short and long. He is a box to box midfielder, but he needs the ball fed to him more than he wins the ball near his own box then drives the side forward. I am outlining what Paul takes with him from our resources.

We have improved our ability to create, with Pjanic mainly, yet also Alves and Pjaca. We have greatly improved our ability to finish chances, with the arrival of Higuain. Asamoah has returned to somewhere near his full strength and is a major addition to the squad as a dynamic, pure box to box midfielder.

What we are lacking, as far as I can conclude from an appraisal of a world class defence, intelligent and creative midfield, talent on both flanks, immense flair and youthful exuberance from Dybala and top drawer finishing from Higuain…is a destroyer, a hatchet-man, a player who can break up the play, and begin the response, hopefully with elegance and élan. A player who can strongly affect or dictate the tempo of the game.

Matic is understandably wanted by Conte. Which is a shame, as I am a great fan of the Serbian. He ticks all the boxes, despite his poor season last term (which was mirrored by a multitude of other ultra talented players around him). PSG have no reason whatsoever to do us any favours – given the Coman story and our attempts to repeat the trick with Ikone – and neither do they have any reason to sell a mainstay of their side for a fair price. Which brings me to the Belgian…

Axel Witsel has a year remaining on his contract. He has openly stated his interest in joining Juventus and has apparently declined other offers, which perhaps would have come close to Zenith’s valuation of around 30-35m. At 27 years of age, the defensive midfielder is reaching the peak years of his career which has seen him excel at every club where he has played.

His skill-set is very much suited to our needs. Adept at covering the back four, operating as the fulcrum of the side and very capable of creating from deep, his only major weaknesses appear a tendency to involve himself in petulant running battles and the lack of goals up top. If his desire to move to Juve is real, as seems the case, the cards are in our hands and the player’s. For will Zenith risk losing whatever we are offering, which could be around 25m, only to see him join us for free next year? As we have seen with Pogba, ultimately money talks.

Unfortunately there is one episode I must mention, which plays on my thoughts as I ponder how valuable a signing he could prove for the club.

During an ill tempered match between bitter rivals Standard Liege and Anderlecht in 2009, Witsel committed a brutal crime…

Wasilewski, a player renowned for his own ultra vicious butchery on the field, threw himself into a tackle which found Witsel’s studs, leaving the Anderlecht defender with his right leg broken in two places. He returned to action within a year and has since gone on to embark on a successful career, but the tackle, enquiry and repercussions scarred the then 21 year old Liege midfielder. Hounded by death threats during the subsequent 18 months, widespread antipathy, painted as a savage not fit for the game (mainly by Anderlecht and Poland fans), Witsel moved on to Benfica in 2011. Excelling to such a degree that Zenith paid 40m for his signature in 2012.

The tackle changed him. From any angle it was a horrid moment, yet its a big jump to suggest he had intended to cripple the player.

“People insulted him, some even threw stones through our windows”, remembered his dad in an interview. “The incident has changed Axel. There is an Axel before the tackle, and an Axel after. His character became more closed. You could see in his face that he was touched by the storm around him. That lasted a few days and then he made the switch.

“We haven’t pushed him into a transfer. We never advised him to leave Belgium at that time, to flee from the media attention. He has created a thick skin and became mentally strong and balanced. No one can drive him crazy anymore.”

After watching the compilation of Wasilewski below, I feel slightly less appalled by Witsel’s challenge.

Such an appalling injury couldn’t happen to a more nasty customer. Perhaps there is a natural balance of justice in the world, karma in effect before the afterlife?

Witsel has no form for committing potentially career ending tackles before or since the incident. He has played as a winger, an attacking midfielder and in recent years deeper in midfield more centrally. Applauded for his ability to lead with calmness, dictate the tempo, tirelessly screen the defence and launch attacks from the back, he has been on the radar of many top clubs for a number of years. Now is the time to move, to test himself at the very top and a move to Juve offers him the potential starting berth at an elite club.

I am not comparing him to Pogba, for they are markedly different types of player. Although it is fair to say that he possesses a similar physical power and physique to the frenchman which makes him very hard to knock off the ball and victorious in most 50/50 battles. He also has good feet for a big man.

I do not believe we signed Pjanic to play as a regista a la Pirlo. Regardless of what Allegri has been saying. He is a trequartista, and whilst he offers a gorgeous passing ability, he brings very little defensive zeal. Which you could say of Pirlo in turn, yet Pirlo was one of the finest players on the ball of history. His sublime talent allowed him to function in the role, especially with the immense defence behind him and Vidal often in cohorts nearby to add muscle and bite to proceedings. Marchisio offers a viable option in the role given his world class reading of the game and tendency to give his all for the cause. Yet Il Principino is not ear-marked for a return to the first team until October at the very earliest. How long it will then take him to recover his match sharpness is another question entirely.

Mandragora could have been interesting, as an apprentice to the regista position, yet he has succumbed to another injury delaying his return to the field. And is vastly inexperienced at a high level of the game. Which leaves us not one natural defensive midfielder in the squad presently. As dar black expressed –

I am getting worried that we don’t have any really reliable midfield ‘hod carriers’ in the line up (as Cantona famously said about Deschamps and the need for players like that). We need a hod carrier! Once Marchisio is back then all is fine, but 2017 is a long way off if his injury is stubborn.

The Zenith star very much falls into this category and I couldn’t agree more with the concerns of the juvefc regular, whose analysis is often spot-on. Yet Witsel is far more capable than merely as a tidy destroyer able to break up the play at the base of midfield. He has a very high level of technique and reads the game superbly, rarely opting for the fantastic when the simple option presents itself.

Every team other than Barcelona needs a player able to deliver the dirty work, by which I do not reference the assault on the spiteful Polak, but tackling, covering, keeping things swift, straight-forward and flowing. Able to put their foot on the ball, pick out a pass from deep and allow the offensive talents to bomb forward confident that what lies behind is rock solid.

His signing would lend to a 4-3-1-2 or variant, with Pjanic able to be deployed in his most potent position. It seems the best deal on offer of all the midfielders with whom we are linked and I hope it comes to fruition. Unless by some stroke of good fortune we can secure Matic! Either player would transform the side and add weight to a more serious challenge on all fronts.

forza juve


You Might Also Like

  • Avatar
    elisadallomo August 8, 2016 at 1:44 pm

    Paraphrasing the Pet Shop Boys, “Pjanic’s got the brains, Sturaro’s got the brawn”. Yet I agree that we need someone to fill in Marchisio’s shoes before he’s back and I also don’t think it’s Pjanic. I also also don’t think they’ll give Marrone a chance in that position, which is sad.. I don’t think Allegri’s even considering him as anything but a vice-Bonucci.

    I trust Marotta & co.. I hope they find us a great midfielder while the market’s open, and hopefully before our debut with Fiorentina. But, mostly, I hope we don’t leave it until the last possible minute and we’re faced with another Hernanes-like deal. This year we can’t afford it.

    • Avatar
      BelgianJuventino August 8, 2016 at 3:09 pm

      Last minute Saponara deal anyone? Haha 😛

  • Avatar
    Jas August 8, 2016 at 2:07 pm

    I really like this player, given the price is right of course. At 27, he is right in his prime years which is exactly what we need. Similar to Pogba but allot more composed and even a bit better tactically. I would be open to buying Witsel but nothing above 25million as he is a free agent next year. In all honesty I see him as an upgrade from Marchisio and given his defensive strength he is exactly what we need. Keep in mind Marchisio is out, Mandragora is out and Khedira is very very injury prone, this makes sense on all fronts. Given his calm character he seems like a perfect fit, I love pjanic since he is my country men but his strength is on the offensive side of the game.

    • Avatar
      Jerry August 8, 2016 at 6:26 pm

      With all due respect to Witsel, I do not see him as an upgrade to Marchisio when when the latter is healthy. I have been watching almost all Juve matches for past 10 years and I can tell the unnoticeable impact Marchisio brought to the team. Juve has been dominating in midfield and comfortable in containing opponents mainly because of him and Vidal, and then the post Vidal period. Marchisio is defensively very strong but also very skillful with his feet, strong long-distance shot and eye for goal when he is deployed further up in midfield. On the other hand, I have not watched many games of Witsel and from some highlights I have seen and I am not so impressed. Also one thing to be sure is, he has not yet played in 5 major leagues before so you can hardly say he’s been tested.

      • Avatar
        Jas August 8, 2016 at 6:44 pm

        I like marchisio too but I think witsel is much better on the ball. Claudio covers more ground but overal Witsel is a younger and more talented player

      • thegutterpoet
        thegutterpoet August 9, 2016 at 10:51 am

        I don’t see many players as an upgrade to Claudio, Jerry yet he will not be available till November at the earliest I assume. It could be longer. Also, Hernanes and Pereyra seem misfits in the squad now. Lemina also to some degree. Ideally we have two players for each position, so some departures are to be expected.

        Ill be happy enough to see Asamoah step in at LCM. He may not be as flashy as Pogba, but he has a fine engine and is a much finer defensive option. Sturaro seems the most obvious back up to Khedira. Its in the middle where I am a little concerned. At very worst we have Hernanes to fill in for Pjanic, but both players are better served positioned higher up the field. I stick to my belief that we need a specialist DM.

        • Avatar
          Jerry August 9, 2016 at 3:43 pm

          I do agree we deadly need at least close to world-class DM in this Juve line-up. Both Sturaro and Lemina are not up to the task yet but I have confidence in them in future. I read Isco would probably be available as Zidane not happy with his training attitude. Juve can try to get him and play 4-3-1-2 diamond with Sturaro/Lemina as DM, Isco and Asa/Khedira CM and Pjanic AM. I am not sure if this works as 3-5-2 has been tested and proven successful for past few years. This Juve this loaded with abundance of great wing-backs and wingers. Perhaps 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 would be more ideal in terms of making the best of this current selections. Also, I am not a fan of Hernanes from the very start. The only good thing i see in him is long shots and free-kicks. He should be off-loaded even before Pereyra.

  • Avatar
    ho Hi August 8, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    Him or Matic?

    • Avatar
      Jas August 8, 2016 at 8:21 pm

      Matic provides absolutely nothing offensively so I’d pick Witsel in a heartbeat.

      • Avatar
        ho Hi August 9, 2016 at 7:40 am

        But that haircut. It looks stupid

  • Avatar
    BelgianJuventino August 8, 2016 at 3:29 pm

    Not that Saponara would be so horrible but you get the joke eh! 😛

    • Avatar
      elisadallomo August 8, 2016 at 3:32 pm

      Hernanes wasn’t so horrible on paper either, but I don’t think Saponara is what we need right now.. we have a couple of those in our MF already.. 😛

      • Avatar
        BelgianJuventino August 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm

        Exactly 😛 and he wouldnt really add the necessary quality we need for this season to challenge Europes elite anyway

        • Avatar
          elisadallomo August 8, 2016 at 4:21 pm

          I loved Khedira’s signing last season for this exact reason.. yes, he’s prone to injury, but the guy has so much experience with both club and NT that he could only improve our MF, which he did. Alves is a great addition this year because of the same reasons.. the guy has played – and won – everything. So this is the kind of signing I hope for. Either experienced and someone who can make a difference, or very talented.

          I think Juve has had a great mercato so far so I can expect the same for our soon-to-be CM.. they’ve bought everything from experience to talent to potential. I can’t wait for this season.

  • Avatar
    lakerguy August 8, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    I see him more like a vidal type than pogba and with pjanic coming in and his stats basically passing pogba in everything we already have the pogba replacement, now we got a vidal type player again (which we needed). honestly with pjanic,witsel and khedira/asamoah and our defence and attack behind and in front of them, this team seems extremely balanced and talented. You have half your team capable of destroying oppositions defence and the other half can basically become an impenetrable wall.

  • Avatar
    Theo August 8, 2016 at 8:21 pm

    Haven’t seen enough of Witsel to make any sort of judgement, but let’s just say I have plenty of faith in yours and our transfer team’s. However, I just don’t see us going for another midfielder before we’ve sold a couple of guys there, possibly 2 out of Hernanes, Lemina or Pereyra.
    It feels a little like Marotta is planting the seeds for next year’s free transfer of the summer. Anyways, I’ll be very curious about how this situation is handled and I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes to the last days of the window.

  • Avatar
    Dar Black August 8, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Well you convince me sir! I looked at Witsel’s stats vs Pogba after you suggested him on the West Ham thread, and he does indeed have better stats all over the park than Pogs. So if he is for sale then why not. Plus I have one of those strange senses that he would look top bomb in one of our shirts (not all players do IMO). It may be his afro thing going on that’s putting that image in my head though!

    • thegutterpoet
      thegutterpoet August 9, 2016 at 10:04 am

      The research I put in leads me to believe he is a solid player who could certainly improve the side, take up the regista role, offer defensive solidity in midfield and allow Pjanic to be deployed higher. Clearly we need to sell whilst we choose a midfielder to come in and Witsel seems the most viable choice. The same applies in regards to sticking with the 3-5-2 and shoe-horning Pjanic into the regista role, for he needs some muscle nearby, which Khedira offers sporadically.

      Sturaro can tackle, yet seems more box to box and still has much to learn. Firstly he needs a season of full fitness and hopefully a run in the first team. I still harbour hope that he could prove a stalwart for the side in the future.

      Whilst some others rave about Lemina, he has yet to prove anything in our colours but again, who can say if he is given a run in the first XI.

      There are far more questions than answers presently in terms of the formation Allegri is intending on adopting, yet plenty of time to decide. The important thing is to hit the ground running, with our finest players fit. Yet it makes sense to begin with what has proven dependable, which is the BBC at the back. Get some points on the table, some momentum, then perhaps tinker.

      For me, Pjanic is somewhat wasted as a DM and Pjaca does not fit into the 3-5-2 other than as a back-up for Dybala. Pereyra is the odd one out in the standard formation as his best form has come clearly between the attack and midfield. Not on the flank or deeper, more central.

  • Avatar
    ho Hi August 9, 2016 at 7:39 am

    Get a new haircut!

  • Avatar
    Marc Palumbo August 9, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Make it happen

    • Avatar
      Moderator August 9, 2016 at 3:55 pm

      i think we could do worse than have him around. The only concern i have is that he will probably want to leave a few years down the line to play in the PL.

      • Avatar
        Marc Palumbo August 9, 2016 at 4:53 pm

        I don’t have a problem with that since our window of opportunity is now.. this year.