Germany are bidding to win the FIFA World Cup for a record-equalling fifth time this summer, and become the first nation to win back-to-back crowns since Brazil in 1962.
Looming large in the giant shadows cast by central defensive mainstays Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels is the 6'5" tall Niklas Süle, Bayern Munich’s 22-year-old Bundesliga champion and a player as fearless as he is physically imposing.
Who is he?
Frankfurt born, Hoffenheim bred: Süle spent five successful seasons with the Bundesliga overachievers, his game improving year on year before reaching new heights under the shrewd tutelage of tactician Julian Nagelsmann. The defender’s immense performances in his final campaign at the Sinsheim-based club were so good, that Bayern couldn’t resist making their move mid-season, announcing the defender would arrive along with teammate Sebastian Rudy in plenty of time for 2017/18.
Prior to settling in at his new club, Süle enjoyed FIFA Confederations Cup success with Germany, the central colossus making four appearances as Die Mannschaft triumphed in the World Cup warm-up. His start to life at Bayern was just as fruitful, Süle scoring a debut goal in an opening day victory against Bayer Leverkusen for the eventual title winners before going on to feature in 42 games across all competitions.
What position does he play?
Performing his central defensive duties with such style and composure, it’s almost hard to fathom that Süle kick-started his career as a striker. Encouraged to test his mettle in the back four while at Hoffenheim, he hasn’t looked out of place since. In the squad as crucial back-up to Hummels and Boateng at these finals, Süle can also play defensive midfield when required.
Watch: Süle among Germany's next Golden Generation!
What was his role in qualifying?
Initially combining Under-21 duties with his senior tasks, Süle was named as a substitute five times by Joachim Löw before the Germany coach gave the defender a taste of the action in the concluding group win against Azerbaijan. Löw also liked what he saw of the Bayern man in the friendly games against France, Brazil and Austria.
What to look for in Russia
Should Germany’s first-choice central defenders suffer an untimely injury, expect Süle to step into the breach, just as he does with such ease at club level. Not just the perfect replacement, the former Eintracht Frankfurt youth is a man with his own skill set: his pristine passing from the back and pacey forward strides – he has been clocked at 20.3mph – matching a work-rate that sees him cover an average 6.2 miles per game.
What they're saying
"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 team other than Bayern." - Former Bayern and Germany goalkeeping great Oliver Kahn speaking after Süle’s Bundesliga debut for his new club last August.
“When I look at Süle, [I know] he's going to be a superb player, world class. In a couple of years, he'll be the most sought-after central defender in Europe.” – Former Bayern coach Jupp Heynckes.
“He’s a fantastic defender who has a lot of quality and is still so young.” – Ex-Bayern coach Carlo Ancelotti.