Niklas Süle's light shining brightly at Bayern Munich
“I wouldn’t have accepted this challenge if I wasn’t convinced I could succeed here. I came to play,” the 22-year-old defensive colossus insisted following his summer switch to the Allianz Arena.
And play he has, the recent FIFA Confederations Cup winner with Germany initially profiting from injuries to Jerome Boateng and Javi Martinez to form a fine central defensive partnership with Mats Hummels. Süle has featured in 11 of Bayern’s 14 games across all competitions in 2017/18, while of his seven Bundesliga matches for the men in red, four have been starts.
“He wasn’t a bit nervous! He didn’t make a single mistake and was so calm. It almost looked as though he never played for any other team [than Bayern],” the club’s former goalkeeping great Oliver Kahn said of the ex-Germany Under-21 international’s Bundesliga debut for his new club in August.
On that occasion, Bayer Leverkusen arrived at the Allianz Arena to open the 55th Bundesliga season, and Süle stole the early show by heading in the first goal of a 3-1 home win. “That gave me goosebumps,” the young centre-back later admitted.
Watch: Süle opens the scoring as Bayern start season with a bang against B04!
Already feeling settled in the scenic Munich municipality of Grünwald – where he lives with his girlfriend and dog, Django – Süle can also count on his student brother for company.
Such a comfortable environment has helped the player to hit the ground running and follow up an incredible fifth season with Hoffenheim by posting some equally impressive stats. “I’ve had a very good start and I’m really happy about that,” he said. “I want to challenge here at Bayern while also showing the national team coach [Joachim Löw] he can count on me.”
For a physically imposing player who can operate at pace – Süle has been clocked at a top speed of 20.3mph – the defender combines neat skills with an improving passing game, while offering plenty of mobility. Indeed, it is unsurprising to some that the Frankfurt native began his career as a fearsome forward.
“I initially moved to Hoffenheim as a striker, but soon afterward, the club’s Under-17 coach said that as I was relatively fast and big and had decent technique, that I would play well as a central defender. From then on, I have done so,” Süle explained in an interview with the Munich-based publication Abendzeitung.
Asked whether he missed the thrill of regularly scoring goals, the former Darmstadt youth player said, “Lewy [Bayern goal machine Robert Lewandowski] is judged on his goalscoring exploits, but I’m measured on my defensive duties; keeping clean sheets is also a lot of fun.”
So much so, that in Süle’s 407 minutes of Bundesliga action this term, he has posted five shut-outs. He has also covered an average 10km per game, misplaced a measly 3.9 per cent of his passes and has been on the ball around 77.6 times whenever he has featured.
Yet to be booked at Bayern, the Germany international showed a similarly disciplined attitude at Hoffenheim, where in 33 Bundesliga matches in 2016/17, he committed just 16 fouls. Keeping track of his new team-mates during Bayern training sessions is also helping Süle to sharpen his defensive focus.
“The level of the sessions at Bayern is sheer madness,” he laughed. “”When you have to deal with the likes of Franck Ribery and Arjen Robben – two of the world’s best players – every day, then you must constantly be on full alert during practice. But I’m getting better at it. It was one of the reasons I decided to come here, so that I would improve,” Süle told Kicker.
Another area which the Bundesliga 2016/17 Team of the Season entrant has improved is his diet. Learning the importance of giving up the everyday habit of chewing on hamburgers, tacos or burritos while under the tutelage of his previous coach Julian Nagelsmann, Süle is still working on cutting out the sweet drinks, but does permit himself the occasional treat.
“From time to time I still allow myself to do something when I think it’s appropriate, I believe that’s what everyone does,” the player grinned. “When I feel the time is right, I’ll eat a burger.”
Watch: Süle among Bayern’s brilliant additions for 2017/18!
With a now slightly leaner frame and feeling in great shape, the 2017 Supercup winner – who stands at 6’5″ tall – says he is happy to be, “learning from the likes of Hummels, Boateng and Martinez,” while getting used to the pressure-cooker environment at Bayern.
“At a certain time, pressure in football is good and for me it acts as a spur. I wanted to take this step and must prove to myself that it was the right one,” he concluded. So far, it certainly appears to be so.