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Atlético complete deal for Axel Witsel, player signs 1-year contract

The Colchoneros have a new midfielder.

Belgium v Poland: UEFA Nations League - League Path Group 4 Photo by Vincent Van Doornick/Isosport/MB Media/Getty Images

Update, July 6:

Atlético announced Axel Witsel’s arrival on Wednesday afternoon, with the veteran midfielder joining the Rojiblancos on a one-year contract. The club’s statement does not mention anything about an option for the 2023/24 season, which had been reported previously.

Witsel is a decorated midfielder who has won trophies at each club for which he’s played in his professional career, which began in his native Belgium in 2007. He has made 119 appearances in European competition, and for his country, he has been selected to play in two World Cups and two European Championships.

Atlético’s statement describes Witsel as a pivot who stands out for his physicality and ball distribution, with an ability to dominate aerially thanks to his size (6’1’’, 180 pounds).

Original story, June 18:

Atlético Madrid are on the verge of completing a free transfer for Belgium international midfielder Axel Witsel, who will take the outgoing Héctor Herrera’s salary slot and compete with Geoffrey Kondogbia in defensive midfield.

Belgian outlet RTBF Sport had the news first, and Marca and Relevo have since corroborated it. Diego Simeone and sporting director Andrea Berta met with Witsel as the player was progressing in negotiations to join Olympique Marseille. Turkish club Fenerbahçe and multiple Major League Soccer clubs were also interested in signing the 33-year-old, but it seems he’s chosen to join LaLiga for the first time in his career.

Witsel is set to finalize a one-year contract to join Atlético, and the deal holds an option for a further season. Reports claim that he could arrive in Madrid next week for a physical, after which the club would announce his signing.

Poland v Belgium: UEFA Nations League - League A Group 4 Photo by Mateusz Slodkowski/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

An experienced pivot who has been a fixture in the Belgium national team for the past decade, Witsel has made over 120 appearances for his country since debuting as a teenager in 2008. At club level, he spent several seasons at Zenit in the Russian Premier League before playing two seasons in China and returning to Europe to suit up for Borussia Dortmund.

Witsel made 41 appearances in all competitions for Dortmund in 2021/22 and scored twice in 29 Bundesliga games (22 starts), returning to action after suffering an Achilles tendon tear in early 2021. He made better than nine recoveries per 90 minutes last season and remains a sharp and reliable passer, exceeding 93 percent accuracy in each of his four seasons in Germany. He can deputize at center-back in a pinch.

Atlético will not get anything exciting out of Witsel, whose 67 minutes per match played last season stands as his lowest average since his age-17 season at Standard Liège. Given Simeone’s preference for veteran footballers and the intense need for competition at the 5, it is unsurprising that Atleti have gone for a player like Witsel instead of ushering 19-year-old Javi Serrano into a first-team role.