Their surprising success this season in the Bundesliga just might help change RB Leipzig’s poor reputation among German football fans. Currently the league newcomer is light years away from becoming a widely-accepted and celebrated club. Founded only seven years ago, the club was previously accused of having no soul on the pitch, and what’s worse, of being a mere marketing instrument (the club is owned by energy drink manufacturer Red Bull).
However, after the first 12 games of the 2016/17 season in which they are undefeated (including seven consecutive victories), they are top of the table and gaining admiration for conducting passionate, top-class football.
The East German club is currently not only attracting worldwide attention, but also garnering increasing respect from their first division rivals. In fact, some observers say that the widespread criticism from officials belonging to Germany’s top dogs, Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, is itself a clear sign that they are being seen as a serious threat. For decades now, becoming a “Bayern-Jaeger” (Bayern hunter) was the ultimate accolade as the country’s football is constantly looking for powerful rivals to challenge the record-holding champions. Leipzig could well take on the mantle in the future, if current trends continue.
“We’re are happy to have a second enemy we can do battle with alongside Borussia Dortmund,” Bayern Munich’s new president Uli Hoeness said and quickly apologized for using the word “enemy,” saying instead he should have used “rival.”
But not all figures in German football are taking Leipzig so seriously. “We respect their efforts when it comes to football but the only reason they play the game is to promote a canned drink. They have no tradition whatsoever,” Dortmund’s CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke said, adding, “we don’t need a top dog like that in German football.”
Despite the verbal attacks, Leipzig’s success this season is hardly a ‘one hit wonder.’
Austrian-born Red Bull owner and billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz announced in 2014 that he had plans for his team to get into the Bundesliga’s top tier within three to five years, and then go on to raid the Champions League: “We also want to get into the Champions League and be successful there.”
Fans and rivals might be concerned about the side’s increasing power. But the story behind the current German football wonder is perhaps the most unusual and thrilling one seen in German football for a long time. Having made their way up from the fifth division to the Bundesliga after buying the license of another club, Leipzig is now encountering an amazing amount of hate from rival fans.
There have been numerous protests against the club. Before a recent match against Bayer Leverkusen, home fans threw paint at the Leipzig team bus. When in the second and third division, the club had to suffer through similar attacks, like their bus being blocked by fans. The second division side Dynamo Dresden were fined over 60,000 euros after fans threw a bull head onto the pitch during a cup game last August. And fans of opposing clubs often refuse to travel to away games in Leipzig.
Despite being unable to call themselves Red Bull Leipzig due to DFB regulations (RB officially stands for “Rasen-Ball-Sport,” which alludes to grass root sports), they are part of a group of franchises that includes their Austrian feeder club FC Red Bull Salzburg, Red Bull Brasil, Red Bull Ghana, New York Red Bulls and Formula One’s Red Bull Racing. The naming system could not be more artificial and commerical, so it is of little surprise that it is not welcomed by many fans and officials in German football. The club might not technically be breaking the ’50 plus 1 rule’ whereby it is not allowed for investors to hold more than 49 per cent of votes. Fans, however, are not convinced and feel the rules are being by-passed.
The fact that Leipzig seem to have unlimited funds from their potent sponsor, is perhaps compounding the disdain. The full coffers also mean that Leipzig could prove a thorn in the side of the top domestic clubs, and later even the big names on the European stage. The salary cap of three million euros annually per player is expected to fall soon.
Surrounded by controversy, head coach Ralph Hasenhuettl’s team is raiding the Bundesliga with lightning-fast counterattacking and constantly forward-pressing football. At 49 years old, Hasenhuettl is called the ‘Alpine Klopp’ due to a football strategy resembling that of the current Liverpool and former Dortmund coach.
So far, Leipzig has withstood the urge to sign expensive top stars. The team’s age average is only 23, despite the fact that the club has invested over 100 million in players in the last years. Their football is designed to get a shot away 12 to 20 seconds into an attack. Leipzig’s football has gained the names ‘pirate’ and ‘raiding’ football in German media.
Mateschitz, for his part, seems to think that the passage of time will allow the ‘new kids on the block’ in the Bundesliga to gain acceptance among the other big names in German football.
“In 500 years, there will be only one difference between Barcelona, Bayern Munich and RB Leipzig. They will be 600 years old, and we 500,” he said. Enditem
Source: Oliver Trust, Xinhua/NewsGhana.com.gh