Jan-Niklas Beste recorded 19 goal involvements (eight goals, 11 assists) in his first Bundesliga season before moving to Benfica in Portugal. - © IMAGO/Eibner-Pressefoto/Marcel von Fehrn
Jan-Niklas Beste recorded 19 goal involvements (eight goals, 11 assists) in his first Bundesliga season before moving to Benfica in Portugal. - © IMAGO/Eibner-Pressefoto/Marcel von Fehrn

Jan-Niklas Beste: Who is Benfica's former Heidenheim bearded wonder with a Germany call-up?


Jan-Niklas Beste was the driving force behind the attacking exploits of Bundesliga surprise package Heidenheim, before moving to Portuguese outfit Benfica. bundesliga.com looks into the forward's rise...

Data correct as of 12 July 2024

Jan-Niklas Beste

Age: 25 (born 4 January 1999)
Club: Benfica
Position: Left-winger
Country: Germany (30 youth caps / 7 goals)

Key stats

Beste is a product of the footballing hotbed of Germany's Ruhr district, entering the youth ranks of local giants Borussia Dortmund at the age of eight. The Hamm native played through all the age grades at Dortmund and was rated as a promising youth product, playing for Germany's U16 and U18s, as well as the Black-Yellows' UEFA Youth League team. After being promoted to the BVB senior squad, he made his one and only appearance for the club in a DFB Cup tie at Rielasingen-Arlen at the age of 18.  

Playing as a left-back as a youngster, Beste's prospects of breaking into the Dortmund first team were blocked by Raphaël Guerreiro. He moved to Werder Bremen in 2018/19, but after failing to progress beyond the reserve side there, was sent on loan to Emmen in the Dutch Eredivise in 2019/20 - for whom he made six appearances before a serious knee injury curtailed his campaign in the autumn.

Beste (r.) spent 11 years on the books of Borussia Dortmund. - Imago

Having recovered, Beste was sent on loan to Jahn Regensburg in Bundesliga 2 for the 2020/21 and 2021/22 seasons. He scored six goals across the two campaigns as the club retained its second-division status, with Beste now being deployed in a more advanced role either on the left or the right.

Heidenheim then signed Beste after finishing sixth in Bundesliga 2 under long-serving coach Frank Schmidt, and the rest is German football history! An astonishing 12 goals and 13 assists saw Beste fire Heidenheim to a fairy-tale promotion - completing a rise from the regional leagues to the Bundesliga for the very first time.

Bushy-bearded Beste was very much a focus of Heidenheim's bold approach as Bundesliga new boys in 2023/24. A free-kick rifled into the net from a tight angle against Hoffenheim on Matchday 2 in August saw him not only score his club's first-ever top-flight goal, but also earn the honour of Bundesliga Goal of the Month.

He slotted another direct free-kick in against Union Berlin just weeks later, while a goal at Bayern Munich and a delightful chip in the return encounter against Union in February were further personal highlights. Beste closed out the season with eight goals and 11 assists as Heidenheim defied expectations and earned a spot in the 2024/25 UEFA Conference League. Only Alejandro Grimaldo (13) contributed more Bundesliga assists in 2023/24.

Watch: Beste's best Bundesliga goals

Having shown his set-piece mastery and technical accomplishment in the topflight, Beste received a first Germany call-up in March 2024 for friendly matches against France and the Netherlands. He wasn't given a senior international debut but Beste is clearly in the picture and will now get the opportunity to impress from afar after signing a five-year contract with Portuguese heavyweights Benfica.

Plays a bit like: Vincenzo Grifo

Parallels between Heidenheim and Freiburg abound. Both are small clubs punching above their weight with extremely long-serving coaches and a cohesive, plucky playing style. Beste has taken on the same kind of role Grifo has operated in for years with Freiburg - setting up and providing key goals with set-piece expertise. Grifo also received his first call-up to his national team, Italy, at the age of 25.

Did you know? 

Beste's trademark beard was a product of the Covid-19 pandemic. He told Bremen fan website Deich Stube: "I was playing in the Netherlands at the time and the season got cancelled. I was sat at home for three to four months with no training, and it just grew. The hairdressers were closed and nobody noticed it." Beste has also disputed rumours he came close to shaving the beard as part of Heidenheim's promotion celebrations in summer 2023, saying he could not have done that as it was shortly before his wedding.

Threre is no missing Beste on the field thanks to his trademark bushy beard. - IMAGO/Eibner-Pressefoto/Sascha Walther

What they're saying

"Niklas is an incredibly important player for us, as he continually puts in good performances with his great attitude." - Heidenheim boss Frank Schmidt 

"I think I am still some way short of making the national team. I haven't played a full season in the Bundesliga, and to be mentioned as a possible German international right away is a bit too early, I think." - a modest Beste said shortly before his first Germany call-up in March 2024

"I am really crossing my fingers for him, as it would be a huge thing for him and his club. I think he has deserved it, and he will serve the German national team well. He has all the virtues they need. It's a fantastic story that would be a new highlight for our club." - a more optimistic Heidenheim chairman Holger Sanwald shortly before the call-up