He's the first choice in defence for both Bayern Munich and Germany by the age of 23, so clearly there's something special about Niklas Süle. We dive in for a closer look…
1) 100 goals in a season
While Süle is now known as one of the most hard-nosed defenders in the business, that was not always the case. During his time at youth team Rot-Weiss Walldorf – where Süle's father Georg was coach – Süle once scored more than 100 goals in a single season and helped the side go on a three-year run in which they lost just once. "He used to play as a striker or an attacking midfielder back then," Georg told Spox a few years ago.
So how did he end up at the opposite end of the pitch? Well, after joining the Hoffenheim youth academy at the age of 15 in 2010 he was asked to fill in at centre-back given his height (he now stands at 6'5") because all the other players in that position were injured. "He played so well there that he hasn't played anywhere else since," recalled Georg.
2) Big breakthrough
Just three years later, Süle was playing in the Bundesliga. He made his top-flight debut at the age of 17 on Matchday 33 of the 2012/13 season, starting a dispiriting 4-1 defeat at home to Hamburg. Nevertheless, he was trusted enough to make his second appearance a week later – and the stakes could not have been bigger.
Hoffenheim were second bottom of the table at the time and needed to beat none other than Borussia Dortmund away on the final day of the season, while hoping either Augsburg or Fortuna Düsseldorf would lose. With Hoffenheim 2-1 up in the 85th minute, Süle was brought on to seal the defence and see the result over the line.
"He was jeered really badly," recalled father Georg. "But then he won a header against Robert Lewandowski and took the ball off Marco Reus. That settled his nerves." Hoffenheim held on to win and – thanks to Düsseldorf's defeat at Hannover - Süle also featured in the ensuing relegation play-off matches against Kaiserslautern that kept the club in the Bundesliga.
Watch: Hoffenheim's crucial win over Dortmund in 2013
3) Hoffenheim's main man
Hoffenheim head coach at the time Markus Gisdol clearly liked what he saw and rewarded Süle with a regular place in the first team in the following 2013/14 season. He played 25 times in the Bundesliga, starting 20 and scoring four times as the side finished clear of relegation trouble in ninth.
Bearing in mind that Süle was still just 18 at the time, it is astonishing he was preferred in the side to several more experienced, older teammates. He didn't miss a minute of action in the first 14 league games of 2014/15, but a cruciate ligament injury suffered on Matchday 15 kept him sidelined for the rest of the season. He was back to his best the next year, however, playing the full 90 minutes in 33 of 34 Bundesliga matches.
4) Olympic silver medalist
Unsurprisingly for a player that represented Germany at every youth level from the U16s onwards, Süle was selected in his country's U21 team at the 2016 Olympics in Brazil. He played in all six of the team's matches at the tournament and scored his penalty in the shootout in the final they ultimately lost against Brazil.
5) Turkey confusion
As familiar a sight as it is to see Süle in a Germany shirt nowadays, his allegiance could have gone elsewhere as a youngster. Or could it?
"When I was in the U16s, the head coach of the senior Turkey national team called me," Süle recalled. "He wanted me to play for Turkey as he said my surname sounded Turkish. I had to disappoint him. My name's not Turkish, but Hungarian. My father was born here [in Germany], but he had a Hungarian passport until he was 16."
6) First Hoffenheim academy graduate to play for Germany
Turkey's (unavoidable) loss was very much Germany's gain. Following his displays at the Olympics in Rio, Joachim Löw handed Süle his senior international debut on 31 August 2016, a 2-0 friendly win over Finland. In doing so, Süle became the first player from Hoffenheim's youth academy every to represent Germany at senior level.
And despite the fierce competition for places at centre-back, he has been a regular ever since and recently became an automatic starter. Süle scored his maiden international goal in a 3-0 friendly triumph over Russia in November 2018.
7) Football in the family
Niklas' brother Fabian, three years his senior, was also a talented footballer in his youth and even rejected an offer to join Mainz's U19 side to focus on his academic studies. "Technically, he was more gifted than me," Niklas once said. "But I had a different mentality. I didn't always go out partying!"
Fabian ended up earning a football scholarship to the St. Francis College in Brooklyn, New York, where he studied a degree in Business Management, Economics and Finance.
8) Boateng fan
Tall, powerful, German and able to ping passes out from the back: it is no wonder Süle was likened to Jerome Boateng in his formative years. It was an apt comparison too, as Süle has long been a fan of the man who would one day be his teammate at Bayern.
"I don't have any idols because I want to do my own thing, " Süle told the Hoffenheim website in 2015. "But there's obviously one player who's a reference point and that's Jerome Boateng. He's the one player I look up to. That's why I was so happy when he got in touch when I was injured [the cruciate ligament he damaged in 2014]. I was lying in the hospital when suddenly I got a text message from him. I freaked out for a little bit. That was a huge thing for me."
9) The student becomes the master
If that was Süle's reaction to a text message, then just imagine his delight at pulling on the Bayern Munich shirt next to him in the changing room. In January 2017 it was confirmed that he would be joining the club from Hoffenheim in time for the 2017/18 season.
Initially drafted in to provide cover for Boateng and Mats Hummels, the first-choice defensive pairing for club and country at the time, Süle still managed a respectable 27 Bundesliga appearances in his debut campaign at Bayern. "If I can even get anywhere near what Jerome's achieved then I'll be very satisfied with my career," Süle told Kicker after his arrival at the cub. "I'd never say I'm on the same level as him."
And yet, come 2018/19, Süle had elbowed his way into the first team. “Niklas does really well with his pace and doesn’t ponder too long,” head coach Niko Kovac said. “He’s first choice ahead of the other two [Hummels and Boateng]. They will have to battle it out.”
10) Speedy Gonsülez
Considering Süle's height and 213-pound (97kg) frame, you might think he'd have the turning circle and acceleration of a 19th-century steam train. In fact, the opposite is true. The defender is a solid wall of lean muscle, giving him a deceptive turn of pace. So much so that winger Kingsley Coman is the only player at Bayern who can match his top speed of 21.6 miles per hour.