Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel has opened up on the numerous transfers in his career that nearly went through, including moves to Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus.
The Belgium international has been coveted by big European clubs for much of his career, but managed to avoid playing in the continent’s biggest leagues until last season.
Witsel began his career with Standard Liege in his native Belgium, before moving on to Benfica, Zenit and then Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian.
The midfielder, now 30, joined Dortmund last summer from Tianjin Quanjian, and helped his new side to a second-place finish in the Bundesliga.
Though Dortmund represented his first foray into a top-five European league, Witsel told Goal and DAZN that he nearly moved to Real Madrid back in 2012.
“I could have joined Real Madrid when Jose Mourinho was there,” Witsel said. “But then Real signed Luka Modric, so a transfer to Madrid made no sense to me.
“Shortly before the end of the transfer period Zenit called. I had good discussions with the people responsible and finally agreed. I am an open person and was not afraid of Russia.”
During his time in Russia, Witsel says that he very nearly moved to Juventus on a free transfer, before deciding at the last minute to re-sign with Zenit.
“My contract with Zenit expired and I wanted to move to Turin to Juventus,” Witsel recalls. “I had already passed the medical check and actually only had to sign the contract.
“I waited all day in the office and Zenit told me to come back. In retrospect, that was perhaps a twist of fate. Maybe it was just not the right time.”
The right time eventually did arrive last summer as he joined Dortmund, though Witsel says that he could have joined Man Utd or Paris Saint-Germain when he left China, but instead opted for an environment where he would likely be a guaranteed starter.
“First (Dortmund sporting director) Michael Zorc approached me, then (manager) Lucien Favre called me,” Witsel explained.
“I also had other offers, maybe I could have gone to Paris or Manchester, but I did not want to wait. And I had the feeling that I was the first choice for Dortmund. It is important to feel good when you go to a new club.
“So after the talks with Zorc, Favre and (CEO) Hans-Joachim Watzke, I decided to join BVB. Dortmund is a top club – and I really wanted to join a top European club.
“Maybe it was my last chance at 29 years old. It was the right decision.”