Stoke City failed in their bid to sign Zenit Saint Petersburg midfielder Axel Witsel during the January transfer window, according to the Russian club's general director. The 27-year-old has previously been heavily linked with a move to Tottenham Hotspur and is understood to have come close to agreeing to a switch to the Premier League.
The defensive midfielder was regarded as one of Europe's finest young talents during his spells with Standard Liege and then Benfica, but his reputation has dwindled in recent years while at Zenit. Nevertheless, he continues to be tracked by clubs in the English top flight.
Tottenham were understood to be interested in the player during the last summer transfer window but failed to secure a deal – despite Witsel later refusing to rule out a potential move. Zenit have now confirmed that the player was later subject to interest from another English side, Stoke, who lodged a late bid for the Belgium international.
"There was an offer from the Stoke City," Maxim Mitrofanov told Russian news ageny Tass, according to the Evening Standard. "They offered about €15-16 million. No other proposals took place. [Our] colleagues probably think we may 'fail' in summer. Witsel's agents are dreaming of selling him somewhere but we will be happy if he continues playing in our team."
Mark Hughes' need for a midfielder in the mould of Witsel has been defused after the Potters clinched the signing of Giannelli Imbula from FC Porto in the twilight of the winter transfer window. That signing may boost Tottenham's chances of securing a move for Witsel in the future, with one of their main rivals for his signature seemingly out of the running.
Witsel, who is currently managed by former White Hart Lane boss Andre Villas Boas, has been continually coy over a potential move to Spurs. However, this summer could see him finally complete a switch. The Evening Standard understands the club were willing to pay £17m (€21.6m) for Witsel last summer.
"I don't want to think too much about that. I am here until June, and then we will see," he told the Evening Standard in January. "Most of them [my international teammates] are in England. But it doesn't mean if they play there I should also go to England. I think everybody knows that the best championship is the Premier League."