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Dublin: 4 °C Monday 19 March, 2018

Belgian star Witsel opts for China over Juventus in 'very difficult decision'

Axel Witsel had looked likely to join the Italian champs but will now become the latest recruit to be lured to China.

Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.
Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.

BELGIUM’S AXEL WITSEL has chosen to reject Juventus and move to China in a decision he has described as “very difficult”.

Italian champions Juventus have been pursuing a January move for the Zenit midfielder, with his contract in Russia due to expire at the end of the season.

They were hopeful of completing a deal, but Witsel, 27, will instead play in the Chinese Super League and earn a reported salary of €18million per year.

Reports suggest Witsel will join newly promoted Tianjin Quanjian – managed by Fabio Cannavaro – rather than Shanghai SIPG, who have also shown interest.

“It was a very difficult decision because on one hand there was a great team and a top club like Juventus,” Witsel said to Tuttosport.

“But on the other there was a crucial offer for my family that I couldn’t turn down.

“The leadership at Juventus have always behaved like gentlemen with me and I can only be grateful to them.

“I will cheer for Juventus and I hope they can win the Champions League. Then who knows, maybe one day in the future our paths will finally meet.”

Belgian international Witsel has won one Russian Premier League title, one Russian Cup and two Russian Super Cups since joining Zenit from Benfica in 2012 in a move worth €40million.

But he will now leave Europe to play in the CSL, a competition which has been increasingly successful in attracting global talent.

Carlos Tevez completed a move to Shanghai Shenhua last month that reportedly makes him the world’s highest-paid footballer.

Chelsea and Brazil attacking midfielder Oscar, meanwhile, is set to join Shanghai SIPG for a reported £60million.

Those signings add to the likes of Hulk, Jackson Martinez and Alex Teixeira, all of whom are playing in China after making high-profile moves.

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