Witsel, Modeste’s Bundesliga reunion proves Asia isn’t always farewell destination

Gabriel Tan Gabriel Tan

FOX Sports Asia football Gabriel Tan believes Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste’s reunion in the Bundesliga is further evidence that going to Asia does not always mean a final paycheck.

Just last May, Axel Witsel and Anthony Modeste were still in the Chinese Super League lining up alongside one another for Tianjin Quanjian (now Tianjin Tianhai).

Highlights – 1. FC Köln vs Borussia Dortmund

On Friday evening, they were on opposing sides as Borussia Dortmund defeated Cologne 3-1 in the second week of the 2019/20 Bundesliga season.

In just a year, the two have made their way back to Europe – playing in one of the world’s best leagues no less – which should further dispel the notion that top-level players moving to Asia are just after one final paycheck.

A friendship that began in Tianjin.

In the past, that may have been the case – and that is not to say that every one of those moves were purely motivated by money.

For every Carlos Tevez or Robinho, who either barely made a ripple or just did not look that interested, there has been a Raul or Hulk, who had a real impact while imparting valuable knowledge to their less-experienced team-mates.

In most of these previous cases, however, it always was not long before these illustrious names called time on their careers.

When Witsel left Russia’s Zenit for Tianjin in 2017, it was easy to assume he was on the same career path.

18 months later, after dominating in the CSL and featuring for Belgium at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, he was signed by Dortmund and played a pivotal role in them pushing eventual champions Bayern Munich all the way to the final day in the title race last season.

Likewise, Modeste was actually one of the Bundesliga’s most-prolific strikers – netting 25 goals for Cologne in 2016/17 – when he opted to move to China.

Even when his former side came calling again, they had been relegated and the Frenchman paid his dues in 2. Bundesliga to earn a return to the highest level with promotion last term.

And they are not the only examples.

The best in recent times has to be Paulinho, who is back for a second spell with Guangzhou Evergrande after a season-long stint with Spanish giants Barcelona stint – where he even made 49 appearances in all competition – reaped a La Liga and Copa del Rey double

Paulinho starred for Barcelona in his solitary season at Camp Nou.

That is not to say that the old trend will not continue.

There will still, maybe always, be clubs in Asia – for reasons that benefit both on and off the field – eager to sign an ageing former star from a famous European club.

And it is also easy to understand it from the view of a player on his last legs jumping at the chance of one final big deposit in the bank account.

But, as Witsel, Modeste and Paulinho have proved, an Asian sojourn can also be a competitive port-of-call to rejuvenate and refresh the jaded before another tilt at playing at the highest level.