A record-breaking summer is on the horizon for Everton Football Club. After a few months of horrifying performances, it looks as if The Toffees are on the up and are ready to go back where we belong. Rumours spread like wildfire and one BIG move, which could potentially happen, is Axel Witsel. He’s been linked with moves to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester United, but a confirmed £30 million bid for Witsel has been made from Everton. Is he worth it? What could we expect from him if he does actually join?
Who is Axel Witsel?
Witsel is one of the many players to have gone through the Standard Liege youth academy, making his debut for the Belgium club in September 2006. He broke through the season after, forming a great midfield partnership between him, Steven Defour and Marouane Fellaini. Fast-forward to 2009, Witsel would receive an 8-match ban for breaking Marcin Wasilewski’s leg in the ferocious derby between Anderlecht and Standard. During his time at Liege, he would win two Belgian Pro League titles, the Belgian Cup and the Belgian Supercup.
As well as many appearances for Liege, he got his first cap for Belgium, scoring on his debut in a loss against Morocco in 2008. In this year, Witsel would also receive the Belgian Golden Shoe and the Young Footballer of the Year award for Belgium players.
Benfica would sign Witsel on a five-year deal in July 2011, which included a buyout clause of €40million. He scored twice in a 3-1 victory against FC Twente in his first match, sending Benfica to the Champions League group stages. Witsel produced a ‘man of the match’ performance against Gil Vicente in the Taça da Liga final, Benfica winning the cup for a fourth time.
Zenit triggered Witsel’s release clause in September 2012, signing a five-year contract. He’s been part of the Russian team’s midfield ever since, winning the Russian Football Premier League in 2014-15, the Russian Cup the season after and the Russian Super Cup. Witsel would also make many appearances for his national side, being included in Belgium’s World Cup and European Championship squads, scoring against Ireland in the group stages this tournament.
What are Witsel’s biggest strengths?
He is a top passer, fantastic at recycling the ball out towards the wingers or back so the team can retain possession. In the European Championships, Witsel had a 92.6% passing rate, only Yannick Carrasco (Belgium) and Sergio Busquets (Spain – both 93%) had a higher passing accuracy in the championships – for players that had played in more than 4 matches in the tournament.
In the Russian League, Witsel had kept an 89% passing rate in 28 matches, better than any other Everton holding midfielder last season. Witsel can also create many chances; he’s created an average of 1.4 per game during the European Championships, that’s a higher rate than Gareth Barry, James McCarthy, Muhamed Besic and Darron Gibson in the league last campaign.
As well as passing, he is also very strong at winning aerial duels. Witsel won an average of 2.7 aerial duels per game in the Champions League, winning 2.2 aerial duels in the European Championships. Everton have struggled with aerial duels, only Leicester City had a poorer percentage than we did last season. We also conceded the most headed goals in the Premier League, conceding 14 (yes – even Aston Villa conceded less). A signing like Axel Witsel should improve our defencing abilities against crosses and corners.
What are Witsel’s main weaknesses?
Witsel isn’t a great tackler. He certainly goes in a lot, making an average of 3 per match in the Champions League, but he has never had the ability to make perfect tackles. This is documented back in 2009 when he broke Marcin Wasilewski’s leg. The two players challenged for an open ball, Wasilewski slides in but Witsel dives two-footed onto his right leg. It has been highlighted as one of the worst tackles of all-time from some, although this may have been just one incident, it is one that has lingered onto him ever since the challenge was made.
He is not a well-disciplined player either, receiving 9 yellow cards in all competitions in the 2015/16 campaign. In his club career, Witsel has received 33 yellow cards and 3 straight red cards. It’s a similar situation we had with Marouane Fellaini when he first joined, a player with good ability but discipline letting him down.
How would Witsel fit into an Everton team?
Although we haven’t seen an Everton side fielded by Ronald Koeman yet, we are likely to see either a 4-4-2 or a 4-2-3-1 system being used under our Dutch boss. Witsel is a versatile player, he can play anywhere in the central midfield positions whether it’s defensive or offensive.
The Belgian midfielder would also be likely to be next to Ross Barkley if he signs. A 4-4-2 would give the option of Witsel dropping deep and Barkley moving forward in a diamond when attacking, or maybe the other way around if necessary.
In a 4-2-3-1, we could see Witsel sitting in the holding position alongside another central midfielder. With Gareth Barry in midfield, Witsel would have the option to move forward with the final four upfront whilst Barry sits back in front of the back four. If we sign someone else such as Morgan Schneiderlin, we wouldn’t need to rely on Witsel to make countless amounts of challenges as the Frenchman has that ability and Witsel would be the man to recycle the ball out from defence.
Is Axel Witsel worth £30m? Is he the marquee signing Everton are looking for?
It’s a risk and I can see why so many Evertonians would be concerned. However, we have seen a lot of Belgian players fit perfectly into the Premier League; Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Vincent Kompany, Marouane Fellaini… the list goes on and on.
Price wise, we could probably sign Witsel for a bit cheaper considering his contract runs at the end of 2017 but £30m is a massive signing for a number of different reasons. It shows that Everton finally have a bit of weight to throw at other clubs, much like Manchester City did with Robinho. Success or not, it is a huge sign that we mean business towards the press and supporters from other clubs in the league.
Witsel has also been linked to many clubs over the course of his career, Liverpool, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Tottenham have all (at some point) been interested in the Belgian star. To take Witsel over the watchful eyes of the “mega clubs” would be a big success story for Everton.
Who would have thought that 12 months ago, Everton would be linked into spending £30 million on a player? It’s a crazy point, which I still haven’t got my head around, a risk, yes, but for the long term it’s a big change for Everton. Witsel would be Everton’s most expensive signing ever, and surely the whole “little old Everton” nickname can be abolished forever. Witsel would be a great buy for the club in my eyes.