Niklas Süle says he is happy with his development since joining Bayern Munich from Hoffenheim in summer 2017, but the Germany defender believes he still has a way to go to reach the level of Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels.
Süle made 27 Bundesliga appearances and claimed the Bundesliga title in his debut season at Bayern, sharing central defensive duties with Boateng and Hummels. In 2018/19, the 23-year-old has started nine of Bayern's 11 league outings, putting him ahead of his more established teammates in the pecking order. Not that he sees it that way.
"They're two outstanding players," Süle said in an interview with Welt am Sonntag. "I'm glad I'm in a position to learn from them and I'm trying to take it all in. I get on really well with both of them, but I'd never compare myself to them. When you look at the number of titles they've both won, I really can't say I'm on the same level as them. I'm just not there yet."
Even if he hasn't lifted as many trophies - Süle has one Bundesliga winner's medal compared to Boateng's six and Hummels' five - there can be little doubt that the 6'5" behemoth is at least on the same level performance-wise. There was little between the trio in terms of tackles won and passing last season, but Süle led the way for pace and distance covered, flying in the face of those who said he wasn't cut out for life at Germany's record champions.
"When I moved to Bayern, almost everyone said: 'What's he going there for? He won't even play!', Süle recalled. "But I always believed in myself and I was sure that I would be given playing time. Now a lot of people are saying I should always play. I take it all on the chin, though. Last season made be realise that I can push for a starting berth if I'm playing well."
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Süle has also been able to muscle his way to the front of the queue for Germany. He has started Die Mannschaft's last four matches in all competitions, and scored his first senior international goal in the November friendly win against Russia. No wonder Turkey - falsely misinterpreting the umlaut in his surname as Turkish - were so keen to bring him on board during his time with the Germany U16s.
"Once a German-speaking representative called me up and started talking to me in Turkish," revealed Süle, now a 15-time Germany international. "I told him I didn't understand. Then he asked me in German if I had Turkish roots. Once I said 'no' that was the end of it. It was pretty funny."