Niklas Süle started out as a striker, but is now a regular in defence for Borussia Dortmund and Germany. bundesliga.com retells the loveable giant's story...
1) 100 goals in a season
Süle was Hoffenheim's youngest Bundesliga debutant when he stepped onto the pitch for them on 11 May 2013 aged just 17 years, eight months and eight days. His football education had actually started at Eintracht Frankfurt's youth academy though, before — following a brief stint at Darmstadt — he switched to Hoffenheim in 2010. Earlier in his career, Süle had been all about scoring — not stopping — goals, and was outrageously prolific, netting over 100 goals in one season before his coaches decided he would be even better at the opposite end of the pitch.
"I was really a super striker. I cannot explain why [laughs]," said Süle. "No, seriously, somehow the coaches put me further back in my youth because of my size. And I have probably done quite well. Since then I've become an international defender." Yes Niklas, 'quite' well...
2) Big breakthrough
He made his top-flight debut 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 shore up the defence and see the result over the line.
"He was jeered really badly," recalled Süle's 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) Nagelsmann's man
Though his Bundesliga debut came under Markus Gisdol, it was when Gisdol's young former assistant, Julian Nagelsmann, took charge at the Rhein-Neckar Arena in February 2016 that Süle began to fully blossom.
"Julian is one of a kind. He understands how a player thinks but always exudes authority. He is an absolute expert and cannot be worked out by opponents," said Süle, who played every minute of every game bar the final match of the 2015/16 campaign as Nagelsmann orchestrated Hoffenheim's successful survival bid. "Analysis of opponents is one of his strengths, so far he has always set us up very well. We can play for clean sheets, as we have already done a few times, but we are also able to create chances."
The pair have since been reunited at Bayern where Nagelsmann has watched his former protege come back strongly following an ACL injury — the second of his career — in October 2019.
"Niki is a player I've known for years," said the Bayern boss, who became aware of Süle while working in Hoffenheim's youth department. "I know he has unbelievable qualities and a lot of potential, which we try to bring out every day. He's played at the very top level in Europe and is developing fantastically. But there are still steps forward he can make."
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 Rio de Janeiro. 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 hosts Brazil.
5) Germany's gain is Turkey's loss?
Well, not quite. "Turkey's U16 coach called me once. He wanted me to play for Turkey," explained Süle. "He thought my name sounded Turkish." Young Niklas had to disappoint his caller. "My name doesn't come from Turkey, but from Hungary. My father was born here, but had a Hungarian passport until he was 16." It was Süle's grandfather, Gyorgy, who left Budapest to move to Germany where his father, Georg, was born.
6) First Hoffenheim academy graduate to play for Germany
Niklas was born in Frankfurt on 3 September 1995, and just three days shy of 21st birthday, he was making his full Germany debut. Following his displays at the Olympics in Rio, then-Germany coach Joachim Löw handed Süle his senior international debut on 31 August 2016 in 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 under Hansi Flick. 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. He now works just down the road from his younger brother as the coach of FC Sportfreunde, an amateur club based on Säbener Straße, which is where Bayern's training ground is located.
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 shirt next to his idol 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,” then-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) Bayern, Germany, golf, in that order
Süle was a regional table tennis champion in his youth, and it's a hidden talent that comes in handy when travelling with his club and country.
"I can officially tell you that Jo[shua] Kimmich thinks he's better at table tennis than me, but I have significantly more quality," Süle said with a smile. While his Germany and ex-Bayern teammate might not be able to teach him much about table tennis, Thomas Müller can still school him on the golf course, where the pair find frequently find themselves.
Watch: The best of Niklas Süle
"I have lost often. Maybe this year I’ll be able to win against him," said Süle, who has had to pay for the pair's meals when on the wrong end of Müller's peerless putting. "Golf has become a huge thing for me. This is my absolute number one hobby. At Hoffenheim, it was already an important counter-balance [to football]."
Müller may not be in awe of his Germany teammate on the fairway, but the Bayern icon is full of praise for Süle's football skills on the football pitch. "Once he’s on the move, he’s hard to stop," said Müller. "It’s surprising when a centre-back dribbles all of a sudden. It's similar to Lucio in the past."
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