Axel Witsel is retiring from football at the age of 29. Now he wants to go out with a bang, and that means a trip to the International Horse Show in Vienna next year.
The Belgium midfielder is taking part in the sport but decided to join Chinese Super League club Tianjin Teda instead of signing for Everton. “I retired from football some time ago but I am planning a farewell party. I’ll go to Vienna next year and I’ll be in an exhibition team I’m making in China,” said Witsel on Thursday.
“The best thing is it’s a kind of challenge for me. I haven’t trained in three weeks and I have to go to practice everyday.”
Witsel had hoped to join Everton, who can’t sign new players until the summer, as Jürgen Klinsmann struggled to persuade he would be able to influence those around him at Goodison Park. “No [I wasn’t looking for a reunion], that’s my friend,” Witsel said when asked if he had been tempted by the challenge. “I love playing in the Premier League. In China it’s very different to the Premier League, more like the Bundesliga. I hope for the best.”
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The midfielder also revealed he almost joined newly-promoted AFC Leipzig in the summer but Bayern Munich’s advances ultimately won the day. “Bayern made it very close, it was as far as I was thinking,” he said. “Leipzig is a good team but they are not playing in Europe and they wanted a more foreign player.”
Witsel announced last week that he will be leaving Benfica after eight years there, despite a £31m offer from Chelsea and Spurs, and moving to China. “When I decided to leave for China, I still didn’t know a lot about the league,” he added. “Some other parts, like the culture and the food, I know even better. I just want to play well in every game.”
He had the chance to sign for MK Dons in the League Cup but wanted to be closer to family. “It was a big surprise to me,” Witsel added. “I told my dad, saying: ‘Oh my God, they asked me to come here’, and his reaction was: ‘What?’ He told me it’s such a weird name. ‘They don’t play football in the Premier League’.”