Bayern Munich’s Niklas Süle and Juventus’ new signing Matthijs de Ligt are two of the most talented center backs on the planet. Both also share a stereotype; they have been classified by commentators and scouts as to heavy.
Although when it comes to Süle, that is certainly the case. The 23-year-old is 195cm tall (6”5) and weighs around 100kg (220 pounds). During the DFB Pokal final against RB Leipzig, the US commentary team called Süle out for being too heavy and slow.
Despite his build, however, Süle is the sixth-fastest player in the Bundesliga. The defender clocked in at 34.99 km/h last season. “Despite my size and my build, I am relatively fast, just not on the first five meters but in a long sprint,” Süle said on the US Tour last week.
A former track and field athlete Süle’s key discipline as a kid was the 50-meter sprint. “You can’t train speed, neither can you adapt your body,” Süle said. “I am not a model athlete like [Robert Lewandowski, but I am certainly not fat.”
The defender has certainly registered the comments that have singled him out as to slow and sluggish for a world-class defender by commentators. But facts speak for the defender, Süle not only knows how to move his fast frame like a sprinter but he is also very good when it comes to the opening ball from the defensive third—Süle led all Bayern players last season with a pass completion rate of 94.24% and with 67.04% long passes completed was second only to Thiago (75.34%).
Süle is not the only imposing center-back trying to shatter stereotypes. Last fall when Bayern faced Ajax, the Dutch side was captained by 19-year-old Matthijs de Ligt. Like Süle the Leiderdorp born defender is a rock.
Standing tall at 189cm (6”2”) the Dutch defender official weighs in at 89kg (200 pounds). Like it was the case with Süle speculations about De Ligt’s weight and tendencies to be on the heavy side were completely driven by the media.
One report suggested that as a youth player he was rejected by Manchester United because of his father’s weight. Much of those rumours and speculation accompanied the former Ajax defender while he considered up his future.
"Every day, there was something new," he said to Voetbal International of the incessant speculation surrounding his future earlier this summer. "Suddenly, even my father was too fat, and that's why one of the clubs wouldn't want me. That makes you go, 'Come on, man...’”
Ultimately, De Ligt opted to sign for Juventus with whom he is currently in Asia playing at the International Champions Cup. Still four years younger than Süle, it is not just the big build that the two defenders share.
Süle is only a marginally better passer than De Ligt, who completed 91.62% of his passes last season. When comparing the stats Süle, in fact, leads in most categories, which is not that surprising given that he four years ahead in his development.
The statistics, however, mostly highlight the similarities between the two players. But it is not just the statistics, and the build that make them similar, like Süle De Ligt is also very fast, which was highlighted in a footrace with Kylian Mbappé when France met the Netherlands in the UEFA Nations League.
That particular incident shattered many stereotypes about De Ligt, both at home and abroad. In the Netherlands tall defenders are often accused of running on train-tracks, fast in one direction but slow on turns. De Ligt, however, worked hard on being able to move in small areas turning his size to an even more significant advantage.
Hence, heavy or not Süle and De Ligt embody the future of international defending. They are both built like a rock but understand to move their frame, making them the standout talents in their position on the planet.