11th November 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
When Hoffenheim's talented central defender, Niklas Sule, was asked why he rejected a move to England in the summer, he offered a refreshingly honest and logical answer, explaining: "To develop myself, I need playing time and a coach who trusts me. I have that in Julian Nagelsmann. He knows me well and knows where and how he can make me better.
"Here I have my usual environment and am within close proximity to my family in Frankfurt."
It must be said Sule's decision to prioritise family and his personal footballing development has been the right one, for under the stewardship of young managerial hotshot, Nagelsmann, the 21-year-old has continued to show why he possesses all the qualities to one day reach the top of the game.
Although he's prone to the odd lapse of concentration, which is fair enough to expect from a player of his age, it's hardly surprising the towering defender is one of the hottest, most coveted prospects in Europe at present. He's got size, power, reads the game well and is a fantastic passer, and at just 21, still has massive scope for improvement.
To get an insight into how highly regarded he is across the continent, look no further than the fact Liverpool, Chelsea, Wolfsburg, Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen, AC Milan, Napoli and AS Roma have all showed recent interest in acquiring the German.
Having joined Hoffenheim as a 14-year-old, following previous spells Rot-WeiÃŸ Walldorf, Eintracht Frankfurt and SV Darmstadt 98, Sule's rise has been as impressive as it has been rapid. In the space of just three years, after progressing through the U17, U19 and reserve levels, he incredibly made his professional Hoffenheim debut aged just 17 against Hamburg in 2013. Although he was on the losing side that day, he did, however, become the youngest player ever to feature for the first-team.
The physical stopper then enjoyed a breakout 2012/13 season for Die Kraichgauer, where he featured on 25 occasions, including 20 starts, in a campaign where he demonstrated his ability to adapt to the higher level and hold his own against some of the Bundesliga's best. His immense threat from attacking set pieces also saw him score an important four goals.
Unfortunately, though, the subsequent crusade was derailed when he suffered a devastating ruptured anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, which sidelined him for the majority of the 2013/2014 season.
But, to his credit, Sule recovered and came back in stirring style, as he enjoyed a superb season in 2015/2016. Starting 33 games, the Frankfurt born hardman's performances were a major positive for Hoffenheim, as they endured a turbulent campaign that at one stage looked destined to end in relegation until Nagelsmann took over, steadied the ship and ultimately led the team to safety.
Sule's kept up his high level into the current campaign too, where he's been a mainstay at the back for Hoffenheim throughout their excellent start to the season. Holders of third place in the table, sitting just 4 points off leaders Bayern Munich, his fine form has been crucial in his team's undefeated start to the new season. Moreover, the fact Nagelsmann's outfit has conceded only 11 goals in their 10 games further illustrates their defensive strength, of which Sule's been vital towards.
Standing at 194cms, Sule is a giant and uses every bit of hulking frame to great use, with his strength, notable leap and solid pace making him a hugely challenging opponent for any forward to match up against.
A fearsome header of the ball, he's rarely beaten in this regard. In addition, his ever improving positional sense and timing and judgement of his tackles have offered additional reasons for excitement. By constantly scanning and being aware of runners on his blindside, this sees him do a good job of tracking any markers that are seeking to exploit spaces nearby too.
In attack, Sule's tremendous composure and quality in possession, which sees him remain calm whenever confronted with opposition pressure, ensures he's an excellent man for his team to rely on when looking to pass out from the back. His propensity to break through the opposition's lines of pressure with a splitting through ball is certainly something his attackers are only too happy to take advantage of, as they duly make their runs knowing what a sublime range of passing he has.
Upon factoring in his astute ability to read the play on both sides of the ball, and he's unquestionably developing into a very complete central defender, who's essentially bereft of any glaring weaknesses.
Even though he's not the fastest going around, his speed is still decent for a man of his size. Due to this, his passing and his height, it's somewhat unsurprising that he's been compared to the likes of Per Mertesacker and Holger Badstuber, who he definitely shares attributes from each with.
It's been encouraging to see Joachim Low, coach of Germany's international team, stand up and take notice, with him already handing Sule his full debut back in August. Given his talent, it will be expected that in time he'll be a regular at international level too.
But for now, though, Sule's sole focus will be on Hoffenheim and doing everything in his power to develop his craft under Nagelsmann, and to ensure his side can continue their wonderful start.
All things considered, Sule would certainly be satisfied that he made the right choice by staying at Hoffenheim in the summer.
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Niklas Sule: Young, Defensive Footballer Excelling at Hoffenheim
11th November 2016. By Edward Stratmann.