The towering figure of Axel Witsel is as unmistakable off the pitch as on it. As his familiar reddish afro rolls into view down the corridor of the Cardiff City Stadium the walls seem to close in, offering a window into how his opponents might feel. It's hard to believe he stands at a relatively modest 6' 1".
Perhaps the perception just reflects how the 23-year-old's stature has rocketed in the last year and a bit, since he left his native Liege for the first time in his professional career. Benfica spotted a bargain and have reaped the rewards, selling their midfield kingpin to Russian champions Zenit St Petersburg for €40m (£32m) barely thirteen months after they brought him to Lisbon for a knockdown €6m (£4.8m)
Despite the brouhaha of a hectic week, jetting east from Belgium's training camp and sealing his transfer to Zenit just hours ahead of the cut-off point to qualify to play in the Champions League, Witsel is his normal, mellow self. Speaking after his country's 2-0 win over Wales in Friday's World Cup qualification match he is relaxed and cheerful, free of edge.
"Everyone knew I was off tying up the transfer earlier in the week," he tells ESPN, "but now it's done, I'm very happy. I was able to get back quickly and just concentrate on these matches." That he could do so was key for coach Marc Wilmots, stepping out of the shadows after assisting Dick Advocaat and Georges Leekens to try and guide this celebrated generation to a first major tournament in over a decade.
If Witsel is anything to go by, these lauded young players are ready to the requisite responsibility. The midfielder doesn't bat an eyelid when his importance to the team's rhythm is pointed out. "Yes, I have the role of regulator in the team, so it's up to me to demand the ball and make us play," he shrugs. "Of course my role changed (after the sending-off of Wales' James Collins) as it's tough when a team's down to ten and they just get everybody behind the ball. We did well to spread out the game, use the wings more, get some crosses in and make the most of that extra space. We could have scored more, but in the end we got the win and have started the (qualifying) campaign very well, which is really important."
Belgium's recent achievements may be negligible, but the individual career of Eden Hazard, Marouane Fellaini and company mean expectation is huge. Witsel says that Wales' strategy of defying Belgium to break them down is something that comes with that reputation.
"We started the game well and had plenty of possession," he says. "Obviously it seemed a bit easier when Wales went down to ten men, but at half-time when it was 1-0, we said to ourselves that we absolutely had to get the second goal to make sure of the three points. We managed to do that with that great free-kick (by Jan Vertonghen), and we knew how to ride out the rest of the game."
The camp is confident ahead of Tuesday night's clash with Croatia, says Witsel, though he later looks nonplussed on the way out of the stadium when a Belgian reporter attempts to frame the match as a "Witsel versus Modric" encounter. "I don't think so. I've never even met the guy," he says behind raised eyebrows.
Over-simplified as the terms may be, he is likely to have to put up with a lot more of this in the months to come. Head and shoulders the best player on the pitch in Cardiff among renowned names such as Vincent Kompany, Thomas Vermaelen and Hazard, it is clear that the accomplished young player is on the verge of becoming a world superstar. Witsel is not the type to look back over his shoulder.
"Of course, I left some people behind at Benfica that made a real impression on me," he acknowledges, but once I completed the move I was really pleased." There is no hiding the fact that he will be well paid at Zenit, yet it is equally plain that Witsel was seduced by the sheer ambition of Luciano Spalletti's side.
"The facilities are amazing at the club, and it's a very beautiful city - it's all good," he says. While many remain disappointed he chose Russia ahead of the Premier League, Witsel is in no doubt he is heading sharply upwards.
"Of course, the plan is to have a great season in the Champions League - it's for that reason that the club have brought in these players to help form a really great side," he suggests. "We'll see what happens in the group and take it from there." Axel Witsel may have an understated manner but there is no way that he - or Zenit - will be able to fly under the radar for much longer.