Niklas Sule had been making excellent progress on his comeback and recovery from his cruciate ligament tear before it was discovered that he was experiencing edema in his affected (left) knee. He had just resumed running on the pitch, doing ball work, and was just getting started joining full warm-ups in the small group, social distancing training sessions at Sabener Strasse before the fluid buildup in his knee was discovered, forcing him to take it easy for a few weeks. Despite the setback, Sule said he’s confident he’ll come back stronger than ever in a recent interview with Bayern Munich’s club magazine, 51 (FCBayern.com).
Before Bayern players resumed training in small groups during the corona crisis, Sule was one of few players going to Sabener Strasse to work on his rehab and recovery. At times, he admitted that it felt very lonely around the training ground: “At times there were only four of us here, the garage was empty. Still, we worked well and with focus. Besides me, there was only Ivan Perišić going through his rehab after his ankle operation. So at least there was one teammate there, and I could talk about other things with him. It was fine on the whole. Everyone in my family is healthy and I’m on course with my rehabilitation. Even though times are tough, I feel good.”
When he sustained his cruciate ligament tear back in October, Sule was fearful that he could possibly miss out on the end of the season for Bayern and also Euro 2020 with the German National Team, which has now been postponed until next summer. The corona crisis has taken some of the pressure off of him in the race to get back to full fitness and it’s been sort of a silver lining in a bad situation for the towering center back. “It’s a difficult situation, this pandemic has taken on unprecedented dimensions for all of us. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say it’s earned me some crucial time for my rehabilitation. I’m sure I would’ve made it to the Euros with my normal schedule, but this has made the window much bigger,” he said.
Of course, this isn’t the first time Sule has torn his cruciate ligament in his left knee. He had experienced the same injury back at the end of 2014 when he was with Hoffenheim. Going through the experience once already has helped Sule stay positive the second time around: “It was irrelevant that it was my second cruciate ligament tear. On the contrary, I knew what was coming and that I’d already overcome it once before. I was always a positive guy, and the fact I was operated on by Professor Fink in Innsbruck on the very first day was important for my psyche. Not waiting long and then getting on with it. When something bad happens, I try to make the best of it, whether in sport or my private life. Of course, there were days during my rehab where I would’ve preferred to stay in bed, especially when there wasn’t any visible progress, but I was always motivated and kept going. That’s also thanks to our physios and fitness coaches.”
When he first joined from Hoffenheim, Sule had to compete for minutes with Jerome Boateng and Mats Hummels, which was no easy task. He’s always backed himself, though, and has no shortage of confidence, so much like breaking into the starting lineup amongst a star-studded cast of defenders at Bayern, he knows that he’ll come back from this injury much stronger than before: “Back then I wasn’t starting from scratch. Even though I knew who was in front of me, I backed myself to apply pressure. I’ve never lacked confidence, otherwise I wouldn’t have joined Bayern. I’m 100 percent convinced that I’ll come back stronger after my rehabilitation. I’ll need time but I’ve got no doubt.”
He also said he’s ready to make the next big step in his career to become one of the world’s best center backs. He used Liverpool’s Vigil van Dijk’s rise to stardom as an example: “Virgil van Dijk joined Liverpool at 27 and has made the step to becoming the best defender in the world. He’s now at the top at just under 30. Centre-backs reach their peak from their mid-20s. You have the necessary experience and calmness, as well as being at your physical peak. I want to take the next big step in the next two, three years. And if people say that I’m among the best in the world, I’ll be happy. That’s my aim.”