Not long ago, Julien Weigl has seen as a future Manchester City player. Links were constantly made and Pep Guardiola’s admiration for him was almost public knowledge too. He was in the mould of the players Guardiola likes. Fast forward to today, the midfielder has completed a move to Benfica. While that is a bit of a fall, but that isn’t the end of the world for Weigl.
The fall from grace for Weigl never really got enough attention. It could be because of how abrupt it was, but also because of how Man City never felt a need for a defensive midfielder before this past summer. They got Rodri from Atletico Madrid, as Weigl’s stint at Dortmund continued to rumble on.
In the 2017-18 season, Weigl had made 25 appearances in the Bundesliga for Dortmund. In all competitions, he came up with 34 appearances and was the club’s first-choice defensive midfielder. He was a constant in their Europa League campaign and a regular in the Champions League group stage campaign. Their group saw Real Madrid and Tottenham advance to the next round, even though almost every betting app had Dortmund as more likely to progress than Spurs.
But the death knell came with the arrival of current manager Lucien Favre. The former Borussia Monchengladbach boss brought Axel Witsel to the club in the summer of 2018. The Belgian came to the club from Chinese side Tianjin Quanjian and he became the first-choice defensive midfielder.
Witsel became that physical midfielder who is more of a ball-winner. While Weigl did win 2.8 tackles per game in the 2017-18 season, Witsel is more well-built, even though Weigl is a better ball-player.
One minor criticism of Weigl had been his unforced errors. In the 2017-18 season, he got dribbled past once per game. He also got dispossessed once per game.
Back in 2015, Weigl was open about one problem in his game. It was physicality and issues off the ball. He told Goal.com (via Bundesliga.com):
“I have to get bigger.I’m going to undergo special training to improve my physicality.”
In the 2018-19 season, Weigl made only 18 Bundesliga appearances. But his position in the defensive midfield was taken away. He was a back-up centre-back, with Witsel being the more used midfielder. Only ten of Weigl’s appearances came in midfield, with 15 coming from the defence.
Dortmund couldn’t win the Bundesliga, despite coming very close. Witsel proved to be an improvement on Weigl, when it comes to off the ball traits. He got dribbled past only 0.3 times per game all season. Unlike Weigl, his lack of pace never came into question either. And Dortmund took full advantage of that to challenge for the title.
This season has been different, as Weigl and Witsel have often been playing together. Both of them have made 13 appearances, with Weigl also playing five times at centre-back. But there is still a feeling at the club that Witself is given much more importance than Weigl.
That somewhat explains why the former 1860 Munich man will be playing in Portugal now. He was seeing his career get scuppered and things not happen as per his strengths. But a move to Benfica isn’t disrespectful by any means. Even Nemanja Matic’s career had a similar graph.
After a spell at Chelsea, he went to Benfica. He would develop under-the-radar until Chelsea got him back from Portugal. The midfielder went onto win two Premier League titles, once under Jose Mourinho and once under Antonio Conte.
Weigl could look at that and take inspiration. He is still 24 and has many more years of football in him. If he spends two years in Portugal, he would be 26 and that would be the ideal age for him to move back to the top level. He could join a big club and get his career back on track. It is far from over.