As the transfer saga surrounding Jerome Boateng lingers on to what feels like it could ultimately end with a move away from Bayern Munich, the club must already be comfortable enough with its current depth to allow such an experienced and valuable piece of the defense abandon his post.
The reason: Niklas Süle.
Not much may have been expected from the Bayern big man entering last season, but the center back turned in an excellent 2017-2018 campaign and is now considered an integral part of the Bavarian machine.
Standing at the 6-foot-4 inches and weighing in at 213 pounds, Süle certainly looks the part of a modern day center back. He has the strength to win battles inside the box, the height to win aerial duels, and the surprising quickness to provide the necessary foundation and physical tools for success.
It is not just the physical side of the game where Süle excels, however. The former Hoffenheim man has a tremendous timing and an innate knack for when to attempt a tackle on faster player. His ability to remain calm under pressure and his keen awareness of when and where to pass afford Bayern the luxury of allowing its outside backs to roam higher and play with more freedom.
All of that sounds good, but how it actually played out when Süle was on the field last season was even better.
Süle, who has has been clocked at a top speed of 20.3 mph, finished last year with a passing accuracy of 93%, while winning 56% of his aerial duels (per Squawka) and a was consistent and effective defensive presence whenever he appeared in the lineup.
Süle, who arrived in Munich on a €20 million transfer from Hoffenheim, is not really some johnny-come-lately, though. Süle has been featuring for German national teams since he was a U-16 in 2010 and had been tracking to be a quality player through his development in clubs like SV Rot-Weiss Walldorf, Eintracht Frankfurt, and SV Darmstadt, before arriving at Hoffenheim.
Still, though the move to Bayern represented the opportunity for Süle to pit himself against the world’s best players. It’s one thing to face off against Werder Bremen in a tough, Bundesliga game on a random Saturday afternoon, but it’s another to square off against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar, or Kylian Mbappe in a midweek Champions League showdown.
As Süle detailed to Bundesliga.com last October, the defender remained confident through each step of his career, including when it came time to challenge himself at one of the biggest and best clubs in the world.
I wouldn’t have accepted this challenge if I wasn’t convinced I could succeed here. I came to play.
With his athleticism and raw physical talent, Süle was always destined for a first-team, starting role, but it is how he continued to raise his game even as the level of competition increased that likely helped win over the Bayern brass. As Süle told FCBayern.com back in January:
It’s gone much better than I imagined. I’m very proud of having played so much and having the confidence of the coach and the club. The level in training sessions is incredible. If you haven’t slept well or you don’t feel so good then you quickly get found out. Training plays an incredible role (at FC Bayern). You have to prepare for training like you do for a game.
If Boateng does leave, the pressure on Süle may increase, but it likely won’t have much an effect on the 22-year old. Simply put, Süle has risen to the occasion each time he’s been asked by club or country.
During my time at Hoffenheim, it was always a must to sit on the couch with friends on Tuesdays and Wednesdays to watch the Champions League. Now I’m a part of that. I played in Paris, even if the result wasn’t that good, but it was an unbelievably important experience for me. To compete alongside the best is why you come to Bayern. Then there was the game at Celtic, which was an amazing experience. It’s unbelievable to be able to experience all of this as a young player in my first Champions League campaign.
The Champions League is really tough. I remember the first game against Anderlecht. Everyone was expecting us to win easily, but then we stepped out onto the pitch and saw that the opposition could also play really good football. In the Champions League, even clubs that don’t have the name of a Real Madrid or Barcelona still have real quality. I’m lucky to play for a team that’s been a part of this competition for decades and always looks to go as far as possible. That makes it easier for me to find my feet at this level.
A regular inclusion of Süle into the “Starting XI” could immediately pay dividends for Niko Kovač as the the big man brings more energy and dependability than Boateng at this stage of his career.
That is not meant to disparage Boateng at all, though, as the German international is still a world-class player at the position. The issue with Boateng is simply availability, as he has been injury prone over the past three seasons. Aside of that, the confidence in Süle is more of a reflection of the progress and development made by the Frankfurt am Main native than any slight on Boateng’s talent.
Helping guide Süle through last season was none other than Boateng and fellow defender Mats Hummels, who are arguably one of the top combinations in all of Europe. With so many duels against the world’s best, Hummels and Boateng not only offer the wisdom required to assist a young player, but both also still play at a high enough level to work alongside Süle and provide that ever-important in-game guidance.
For those players, Süle was extremely thankful and appreciative for the opportunity to act as an apprentice as he told Abendzeitung in February.
They are World Cup winners who have delivered consistently over years. The most difficult part, especially as a defender: making as few mistakes as those two have in the past years. At only 22 I am lucky enough to always have one of the two at my side. It lets me learn a lot and improve myself. It’s a privilege.
Ideally, Bayern retains all three players in an effort to provide itself with a tremendous core of center backs, but that will all depend on how Boateng’s situation is handled in the coming days.
However that situation plays out, Boateng and Hummels have already helped ensure that Süle is ready to make the next step for Bayern. The bigger question is this, though, are Bayern’s opponents ready for Süle?