Niklas Süle has been forced to watch from the sidelines for much of the 2019/20 season, but the Bayern Munich defender believes he will come back even stronger from injury and has what it takes to reach the top of his game before Virgil van Dijk did.
Süle, 24, is regarded as Germany’s best centre-back, having displaced 2014 FIFA World Cup-winning pair Mats Hummels and Jerome Boateng for club and country, but he saw his progress curtailed back in October when he tore his cruciate ligament in a 2-2 draw against Augsburg.
Yet, despite the second ACL injury of his still-young career, the former Hoffenheim defender has told Bayern’s club magazine that he has not lost sight of his goals, and that includes becoming the best in the world in his position.
“If people say that I’m among the best in the world, I’ll be happy. That’s my aim,” the two-time Bundesliga champion said.
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Asked if over six months recovering means he has to start afresh in that quest, Süle referenced the world’s current best central defender, who finished second in both the 2019 Best FIFA Men’s Player and Ballon d’Or awards:
“Van Dijk joined Liverpool at 27 [sic]… he’s now at the top at just under 30. Centre-backs reach their peak from their mid-20s. You have the necessary experience and calmness, as well as being as your physical peak.
“He wasn’t on everyone’s radar at Southampton, but he was able to step it up a notch at Liverpool. I have every chance at Bayern. It’s in my hands whether I become one of the best centre-backs in the world or not.”
Four years the Dutchman’s junior, Süle is targeting taking “the next big step in the next two, three years” thanks to the “experience at the very highest level” he’s gained in three years with Bayern and as a Germany international, with whom he has won the 2017 FIFA Confederations Cup and competed at the 2018 World Cup while still eligible for the U21s.
The Frankfurt native, who had played all but one minute of Bayern’s campaign prior to his injury on Matchday 8, insists he will “come back stronger after my rehabilitation”. He also acknowledged that the current coronavirus pandemic has earned him some crucial time for his recovery.
Süle admits he had targeted a return in time for UEFA Euro 2020, planned for this summer, but the postponement has “made the window much bigger” as he aims for a third major international tournament, as well as helping Bayern to a potential eighth straight Bundesliga title, with the defending champions leading the league by four points ahead of Borussia Dortmund with eight games remaining.