Despite a clause in his contract recently extending Axel Witsel’s stay at Atlético Madrid for another year to 2024, the Belgian midfielder seems to be unhappy according to claims made by his father Thierry in an interview in Belgium.
The veteran joined the Spanish club from Borussia Dortmund on a free transfer in the summer of 2022 and has played over 2,000 minutes already, having become a regular in the starting line-up in the first part of the season.
However, he has started just three of Atlético’s 11 matches in the 2023 calendar year and has fallen out of favor with coach Diego Simeone, which is causing problems for the 34-year-old midfielder.
Witsel’s father spoke out
“When he left Dortmund and signed for Madrid, Axel expected to be a starter,” his father Thierry told RTBF in Belgium. “And at the beginning of the season he was. Mostly in central defence because that’s where we needed him most because of several absences through injury. And he received many compliments for his performances.”
“He didn’t take it well to be relegated to the bench, although of course he didn’t show it away from home. Axel continued to train to perfection,” his father added. “He has an exceptional work culture, a la Cristiano Ronaldo. The coach congratulated him for that. But that did not comfort the competitor that he is.”
“At 34, he is still hungry, he wants to play,” he continued. “So he asked Diego Simeone for a meeting and expressed his disappointment and discontent… Even at 34, Axel still wants to and can play at a high level. If he’s not doing enough and he’s not happy, we’ll look at the possibilities that come up.”
Competition for places
Witsel is just one of several midfielders which Diego Simeone has available at his disposal, and it’s no surprise that the Argentine coach is struggling to balance the minutes with so many options and only LaLiga on the cards after elimination from the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
Captain Koke remains a regular, in addition to World Cup winner Rodrigo de Paul and 2018 World Cup winner Thomas Lemar, while youngster Pablo Barrios and fellow Atlético product Saúl Ñíguez have both seen their minutes increase since the turn of the year. Geoffrey Kondogbia is another option in the middle who has seen his minutes cut back drastically of late.
As Witsel’s father himself recognizes, the number of minutes available has also been harmed by the return to form of Mario Hermoso in defense. That’s left the Belgian with limited opportunities, even in spite of his contract being extended.