Tottenham Hotspur target Axel Witsel looks set to embark upon a fresh challenge after confirming his ambition to leave Zenit St Petersburg and test his abilities in a bigger league. The highly rated midfielder is in his fourth season in Russia following a big-money switch from Benfica back in September 2012, but has long been linked with a move back to Western Europe.
Spurs, Chelsea, Juventus and AC Milan are just four of the throng of clubs said to have been tracking Witsel's signature over recent years, while Zenit general director Maxim Mitrofanov recently told Russian news agency Tass that Stoke City submitted an offer worth around €16m (£12.7m) during the recent transfer window before they closed a deal for Porto's Giannelli Imbula.
When asked about Tottenham's interest specifically during a winter training camp in Dubai in January, the Belgium international told London's Evening Standard that he was focused solely on his current club until June. In his latest interview with La Derniere Heure, Witsel did not totally dismiss the prospect of staying at the Petrovsky Stadium, but admitted he has informed Zenit of his desire to move on.
"I still have a contract for one more year come June and the club know how I feel," he said. "I would like to play in a bigger league. I cannot say that I will 100% leave, but we have not held talks over a new deal and my intention is to leave this summer. I want to focus on finishing the season on a high, then there's the Euros and then we will see what happens."
Witsel was the subject of sustained transfer speculation back in 2015 and concedes that the decision not to leave was taken out of his hands. The 27-year-old also does not think that Zenit, who are set to lose manager Andre Villas-Boas at the end of the season as well, will be in a position to command a particularly lucrative transfer fee given that his current contract is due to expire in June 2017.
"I spoke to a number of clubs last summer, but it was not about money for Zenit," he added. They wanted to keep me because of the Champions League and there was no time to sign a replacement. When a player has just one year left on his contract, a club cannot demand too much money. I don't think Zenit will be asking €40m for me. We will see. I have never worried about a transfer and won't do so now."