Breaking reports in the Belgium press suggest both Everton and Aston Villa are in negotiations to sign Standard Liege’s midfield star Axel Witsel. The 21-year-old is one of the hottest properties in Europe after excelling for the Belgium champions alongside highly-rated Steven Defour. However, his stock has fallen in his homeland following a red card for a horrific leg breaking challenge on Anderlecht’s Marcin Wasilewski back in August.
The player received an 8-match domestic ban for the incident but returned to league action in late October. However, after receiving another sending-off in a 4-0 home defeat to Anderlecht earlier this month, the club are likely to sell as the player seeks pastures new.
Inter Milan, Manchester United, Man City and Arsenal have all been previously linked with the youngster who has played a huge part in Standard’s back to back league title wins. Individually the player has also won a number of accolades including the Belgian Young Football of the Year award in 2008 as well as the Belgian Golden Shoe for being the best player in the Belgian top division. Witsel’s game is arguably more suited to the Premier League and with Everton and Villa both looking to strengthen their midfields, the Belgian would be ideal. He would fit in with both Martin O’Neill and David Moyes’ squads as he is an extremely hard working tireless midfielder and would add competition to both teams. Villa’s central midfield pairing of James Milner and Stilian Petrov has been impressive but Witsel can play in both their roles and is arguably more competitive.
Everton know all about his talents from their meetings with Standard Liege in last season’s Uefa Cup when the Belgians beat them over two legs. Witsel played in both legs as well as scored in the 2-1 home win. He has also impressed in Champions League matches against both Liverpool and Arsenal which has convinced Moyes of his ability to make the move. Former Standard team-mate Marouane Fellaini has proved a big hit at Goodison and he may be joined later today by his compatriot if a deal can be completed in time. Although Villa’s interest has added extra difficulty to the transfer with time running out before the transfer window closes.
Witsel was born in Liege though his father who was also a former footballer has roots in Martinique. The midfielder came through the ranks at Standard making his senior debut aged 17 during the 2006/07 season. He went on to make 16 league appearances (10 starts) for the club (2 goals) that season but it was following campaign when Witsel established himself as the star he has become.
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Witsel made 33 league appearances in 2007/08, scoring 7 goals (all starts) as Standard won their first league title in 25 years. He formed one part of a trio of exciting young talent with Marouane Fellaini and Steven Defour as Standard stormed to the title 7 points clear of Anderlecht. Fellaini soon departed to Goodison Park, while Defour has also been a target for Everton and their rivals for Witsel, Aston Villa.
Standard retained the title last season after a play-off win over Anderlecht with Witsel himself scoring the title winning goal from the penalty spot in the 2nd leg. Once again the 21-year-old scored 7 goals. This season he has played in 16 league games (all starts) and scored 3 goals taking his tally for the club to 19 goals in 98 league appearances (90 starts). Standard have suffered from an extremely poor season and with European football a major doubt for next season, the club are reportedly looking to sell. They currently sit 7th in the Belgian league and a massive 19 points behind leaders Anderlecht. Witsel has also impressed in Europe for the club playing well in their narrow Champions League qualifying defeat to Liverpool and scoring in the Uefa Cup win over Everton.
Witsel has also won 10 caps for his country, scoring his first goal on his debut. He also scored on his last international appearance in a 2-0 friendly win over Qatar. His fiery nature has also seen him red carded in a 2-1 away defeat in Bosnia as he has gained a reputation for his tough tackling.
The 21-year-old is an excellent dribbler, has an eye for goal and at 6 ft has an excellent physique for the Premier League. He was reported to have rejected the advances of Real Madrid and Arsenal when he was just 15 but the last day of the transfer window could finally see the Belgian star making a big money move to the Premier League with Goodison Park or Villa Park his most likely destinations in a reported £8m move.
Do you like the look of Axel Witsel? Would you like your club to sign one of the most promising prospects in European football? Would you be wary of his reputation? Let’s hear your views.