Witsel leaves China to play for Borussia Dortmund

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29-year-old Axel Witsel has joined Borussia Dortmund after the German club met his release clause, triggering the end of his contract with Chinese club Tianjin Quanjian.

Dortmund announced the signing on Monday afternoon and confirmed they had triggered the clause, and announced the signing of a contract through the summer of 2022, meaning Witsel will be 33 years old at the expiration of his new Dortmund contract. The club posted pictures of Witsel already participating in team training.

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Witsel had a solid World Cup performance this summer, helping lead Belgium to the semifinals before ultimately falling to eventual champions France. He played a more defensive role in midfield alongside the marauding Marouane Fellaini, helping distribute to Kevin De Bruyne, Nacer Chadli, and Eden Hazard. Overall, Witsel has 96 caps for Belgium.

“We were strongly interested in signing Axel Witsel for the past few months,” said Dortmund sporting director Michael Zorc in the official release. “We are delighted he opted to join Borussia Dortmund. Axel is a player with huge international experience. He has the skill set to shape our midfield: Tactical understanding, good in the direct duels, pace, creativity and mentality.”

Witsel played just 36 matches for Tianjin Quanjian, scoring five goals. He joined the Chinese club last summer from Zenit St. Petersburg after spending five years in the Russian top flight. Surprisingly, this is the first time in his entire career that Witsel will play in a Big 5 league (England, Germany, Italy, Spain, France). He rose through the youth ranks at Belgian giants Standard Liege to make the first team, before making stops in Portugal with Benfica and Russia with Zenit.