The Bundesliga has been a particularly fruitful breeding ground for young players. Niklas Sule is one such young talent who has already made a mark in the league and will no doubt be a player we’ll see a lot more of in the years to come.
Who is Niklas Süle?
Born and raised in Frankfurt, Germany, Niklas Süle started his football career playing for local team Rot-Weiß Walldorf. Being both physically and technically superior to his age group at the time, Süle then moved to Bundesliga club Eintracht Frankfurt. He stayed there until the end of the 2008/09 season with the Eintracht Frankfurt youth team until he eventually transferred to SV Darmstadt 98 where he stayed for 6 months before transferring to the 1899 Hoffenheim youth team at the tender age of 14.
The 19 year-old spent the 2010/11 season playing for Hoffenheim’s u-17s and managed to make 25 appearances for the side whilst picking up 3 goals along the way. He was then promoted to the u-19 team a season later where he managed to play 22 games for Hoffenheim’s u-19s.
Talent Radar Accolades:
2016-17 Talent Radar Defender of the Season [Second Runner-up]
2016-17 Bundesliga Player of the Season [Second Runner-up]
Named in 100 to Watch in 2016 feature
Named in 100 to Watch in 2015 feature
2012/13 was the season when Niklas Süle started to really break through and knocking on the doors of the first team. Starting the season as a regular for the u-19s, his impressive form was rewarded when he was promoted to Hoffenheim reserve team. Süle only played 280 minutes for Hoffenheim reserves before he was once again promoted, but this time to the first team. He made his debut for Hoffenheim at the age of 17 years old in May 2013, making him the youngest player to represent the club at first team level. His debut game was a Bundesliga game against Hamburg, which unfortunately for Süle ended in a 4-1 loss.
In the 2013/14 season, Süle went on to make 25 appearances for Hoffenheim in the league, and managed to start in 20 of them. His form impressed so much that he got rewarded with a new contract last season, keeping him at the Rhein-Neckar Arena till 2017. Unfortunately for the youngster whilst cementing his spot in the heart of Hoffenheim’s defence, he has been ruled out for the remainder of the current season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in a Bundesliga fixture against his hometown club Eintracht Frankfurt.
Süle has represented Germany from all the age ranges between 16 to 21 and was part of the Germany u-17 team that came runners-up in 2012 UEFA European under-17 Championship. A team that only conceded one goal throughout the whole tournament (the goal came in the final against rivals Netherlands).
Style of play, Strengths and Weaknesses
Due to his height and nationality, Süle is often compared to his fellow countrymen Per Mertesacker and Holger Badstuber, but one aspect Süle has over his compatriots is speed, albeit not the fastest off the mark, when in full momentum the youngster has adequate amount of pace to not leave his teammates vulnerable from an opposition attack.
Standing at 1.94m tall and having a physique that is quite remarkable for a 19 year old, Süle is able to hold his own against some of the Bundesliga’s strongest strikers. Also due to his physical height and jumping reach the 19 year-old is extremely dominant when it comes to heading the ball in both defending and attacking scenarios.
Süle is not one to shy away from a strong tackle, in fact his enthusiasm sometimes results in giving away silly free-kicks and fouls (most notable is the penalty he gave away to Wolfsburg in the DFB-Pokal last season). He has improved in both standing and sliding tackles after being open about the criticism he received after the game against Wolfsburg, he was the first to admit that he made a big mistake and took responsibility. In an interview with German newspaper Bild, Süle revealed that he was practicing to improve his standing tackles in training and that he told himself that he cannot make the same mistake again.
What makes Süle stand out more than the majority of centre backs his age is that he strong in both tackling and intercepting the ball, with the majority of defenders in the same age bracket only being able to specialise in one area. The youngster has the maturity and understanding of the game to be able to know when to get stuck in and attack the ball and has the ability to read the game.
One of the best qualities any young player can have is confidence and Süle certainly has bags of it. Not many players are trusted to start for the first team at 17 years old, especially in the centre of defence and not many establish themselves as a starting player by 18 years old. The mental strength he showed after coming back from his hellish debut against Hamburg, in which he was exposed by Hamburg’s attack and in particular Son Heung-Min was quite outstanding. The German’s resolute and confident personality is one of the reason why Hoffenheim manager Markus Gisdol kept confidence in him and stuck by him.
One of the areas that Süle has improved on is his lack of concentration, at first he was rather eager to get stuck in and put in a slide tackle, this may have just been down to nerves and trying to make a good impression, but since his early days as a starter Sule has quickly become more cool-headed and alert on the field.
Before his season-ending injury, Süle was developing into one of Europe’s most complete young centre backs along with the likes of Aymeric Laporte and Raphaël Varane. The next step for Süle when he comes back is to once again scale the heights he did prior to injury and making sure that this injury does not flare up again like we’ve seen happen to many footballers before in the past. Süle should also aim to break into the German national senior team, a task easier said than done.
A handful of Europe’s top clubs including the likes of Arsenal and Manchester United were rumoured to being interested in Süle. One thing for sure is that Hoffenheim have one of Europe’s top talents on their hands and it would be best for both parties if Süle stays at Hoffenheim for a few more years to develop his game, but also to gain valuable experience at playing in one of Europe’s most competitive leagues.
Written by Alex Smith