When Niklas Süle announced that he was moving to FC Bayern München two years ago, there were doubts raised as to whether the promising young talent was able to fit in at the record Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal champions. Süle knew his own ability better than anyone else. Today, there isn’t an easy way past Bayern’s defensive rock.
The DFB-Pokal semi-final proved to be Niklas Süle’s toughest test to date. The defender was suspended and not in the squad to face Werder Bremen so watched the match at home on TV. The match proved to be thrilling encounter full of adrenaline. Nevertheless, Robert Lewandowski’s 80th minute penalty sent Bayern through to the final with a 3-2 victory. Süle was suspended for the match after picking up a red card in Bayern’s 5-4 quarter-final victory against Heidenheim. The 23 year-old endured a frustrating week as a result. “Such matches are some of the best that you can experience. A cup evening in Bremen in an incredible stadium,” said a frustrated centre-back after picking up the first red card of his professional career. Additionally, the 1.95m tall defender had featured competitive matchday squad for FC Bayern since joining the club from TSG Hoffenheim. No other Bayern has shown this sort of reliability in this time period.
Süle has managed to stay clear of injuries throughout the course of this season and his performances have been impressively consistent. At the start of the Rückrunde, the Die Mannschaft international rose above 2014 World Cup winning duo Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels in the pecking order in the heart of Bayern’s defence. “Niklas brings a lot of pace to central defence. He is a starter ahead of the other two,” explained Bayern head coach Niko Kovac in January. Some people were surprised by this statement. However, those who have sat and watched Süle both in training and matches are not surprised. His composure on the ball as well as in the passing game, his qualities in tackling as well as his general physical presence have helped him to become an irreplaceable part of the Bayern team. He has fought his way to top through a lot of desire and will power to become Bayern’s number one in central defence.
This hasn’t just been the case under Niko Kovac at club level. Joachim Löw has made Süle a pivotal part of the new look young Die Mannschaft side he wants to build around for the future. “Niklas has now taken on a new set of responsibility for Die Mannschaft,” said Löw earlier this year. “This does mean that expectations have risen for Niklas to perform. We now expect more from him than we did previously. He how has to organise things from the back, direct proceedings and show what they can do. This is exactly the same case for Antonio Rüdiger. Right now, there is nobody else ahead of him.” Süle has become a crucial part of the new look Die Mannschaft side alongside Bayern teammates Joshua Kimmich, Serge Gnabry and Leon Goretzka.
Süle has approached the rising pressure and responsibility in a clear manner: “I know I have to fully appreciate my situation and don’t need to seek external input from anyone.” The Frankfurt born defender isn’t someone who loses their temper in difficult situations. Süle still remembers all too well the doubts and questions marks which surrounded him as he left Hoffenheim to move to Munich. “When I announced that I was leaving Hoffenheim, there was a lot of criticism. Many people assumed that I was about to become a benchwarmer or an early retiree,” he says. However in his first season in Munich, with a 20 million euro price tag against his name in what was planned to be a learning year for him among Bayern’s superstars, Süle went on to feature in 42 of Bayern’s 53 matches that season. The 23 year-old also started 30 of those matches. Today, Süle added: “I’m currently very pleased with my career progression as I have been able to take another key step forwards. I’m now playing with more consistency and am making fewer mistakes.” This has been courtesy of the competition in central defence which Süle has been able to supplant. “These are two players who have taken me by the hand. I’ve learnt a lot from both Mats and Jerome and I’ve been able to maintain a good relationship with both of them. This was also the case when I wasn’t playing as frequently as I do now.”
However, the competition for a starting place in Bayern’s defence is set to become harder this summer. 2018 World Cup winners Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernández are both set to join the record Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal champions this summer from VfB Stuttgart and Atlético Madrid this summer. The French duo will provide Niko Kovac with multiple options on both flanks while both players can also play in central defence. However, Süle isn’t a dreamer and is instead a realist who is ready to accept the two defensive additions. “It’s unbelievably fun and I’m incredibly proud to be where I am now,” adds Süle. “However, I know that I you don’t deliver a good performance in a couple of matches at FC Bayern, you are suddenly number three in the pecking order.”