Saturday September 3 2016
Lucescu: 'Juve too late for Witsel'

Zenit Coach Mircea Lucescu insists he did not ruin Axel Witsel’s transfer to Juventus. “He would’ve been the ideal replacement for Paul Pogba.”

The move collapsed on deadline day after the Belgium international had waited in Juve HQ for 13 hours.

“Beppe Marotta called me that night, but before giving a response I wanted to talk to my director, who told me at that stage there was nothing we could do,” Lucescu told Tuttosport.

“I have the utmost respect for Juventus, they are a top world-class club, but in all honesty to buy a great player like Witsel they shouldn’t have left it to the last minute. Axel would’ve been the ideal replacement for Pogba, but they’d already sold the Frenchman a month earlier.”

The terms were agreed for €18m plus €3m bonuses, but Zenit pulled the plug when they failed to secure a replacement.

“Zenit are an ambitious club too with many fans, so we can’t sell a big star without signing a replacement. Witsel had rejected other important clubs and at one stage said he’d remain until his contract expired in June 2017, so we didn’t worry about finding an alternative.

“It’s difficult to find someone of his quality in two days. I gave it my all. At Nyon, during the UEFA meeting of Coaches, everyone saw me, including Max Allegri. I was on the phone all day, I must’ve spoken to 10 agents…

“I had found the right player, at a Russian club, but once they found out we were negotiating to sell Witsel to Juventus, they jacked up the price. That is what stopped Witsel leaving.

“It’s easy to pin the blame on me, but in reality there just wasn’t enough time to complete an operation of this size. It hurts to hear people say it was my fault. Let it be clear that Coaches can propose ideas, but never make decisions on the transfer market.

“I had given Witsel the ok to leave, otherwise he couldn’t have undergone a medical in Turin. We did everything possible to allow Axel to become a Bianconeri player, right to 10 minutes before the deadline.”

Witsel’s contract is due to expire at the end of the season, so will Juventus make another offer in January?

“Why not? It’s a possibility. But Juventus must move at the right time, with the right proposal.”

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