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Red Bull in a China Shop

Meet RB Leipzig, the most hated club in German football

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In many ways, you could say that Leipzig are taking “doing a Leicester” to new, unfathomable heights, completing a rise only seen on the likes of Football Manager or FIFA– so why are they now the most hated football team in Germany?

It’s full time at the Westfalenstadion and Bayern Munich have suffered a somewhat surprising defeat at the hands of their long-time title rivals Borussia Dortmund. However, it is the previous night’s events that have heightened the consequences of Bayern’s loss. RB Leipzig came from behind to claim an emphatic victory at Bayer Leverkusen, meaning that the newly-promoted side sit atop the Bundesliga three points ahead of Bayern. The season may only be eleven games old but considering that Leipzig were only a fifth division side in 2009 makes the achievement all the more startling.

The truth is, RB Leipzig are the result of a transformation for both sporting, but primarily financial gain. Energy drink stalwarts Red Bull purchased fifth division side SSV Markranstädt’s playing rights, renaming the club RB Leipzig in the process. With this came the intention of reaching the Bundesliga within eight years. They’ve done it in seven but it’s come at a cost.

Beyond the club’s name change, Red Bull changed the kit and crest, with the insignia now depicting two bulls charging at one another. Red Bull also injected a rumoured £85 million budget per season. This not only allowed Leipzig to buy a whole new squad, it completely undermined the hard work of teams at a similar rank and the development of German football at grassroots level. With Red Bull’s investment, RB Leipzig have essentially spent their way to the Bundesliga.

“The unnatural manner in which Leipzig have orchestrated their rapid ascent concerns many involved implicitly with German football and its vigorous traditions.”

The unnatural manner in which Leipzig have orchestrated their rapid ascent concerns many involved implicitly with German football and its vigorous traditions. Unlike other European leagues, the German FA try to prevent affluent investors from swooping in and taking over its teams. The infamous “50+1” rule prevents this, giving the fans and members power in electing its club’s board. Red Bull have corrupted this humble convention with their “gold” membership system.

To become a member with voting power at Leipzig, you would have to pay a staggering €1000 per year. For the same privileges at Bayern Munich the fee is €80; at Borussia Dortmund €62. Currently Leipzig only have 17 members and the majority of those are either employees of, or directly associated with Red Bull. By implementing this system, Leipzig are eliminating democracy and the voice of the fans.

Leipzig have faced a number of protests and boycotts, with perhaps the most outrageous being demonstrated by a Dynamo Dresden fan who hurled a severed bull’s head onto the sidelines at a cup match. However, some might say that the criticism is unwarranted. The likes of Bayer Leverkusen and Wolfsburg have managed to exploit loopholes in the ruling with their beginnings as working men’s sporting clubs.

Hoffenheim were also critiqued for the nature of its owner Dietmar Hopp’s “unofficial” tenure at the club. Hoffenheim achieved a similar feat to RB Leipzig, rising from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga in eight years but they were not met with nearly the same amount of hatred as Leipzig have received.

Perhaps it is the commercial face that Leipzig have adopted that angers German football conservatives. The idea of selling Red Bull through Leipzig and its sister clubs in Salzburg and New York is not new; it is just commercialisation at a more concentrated level.

“The idea of selling Red Bull through Leipzig and its sister clubs in Salzburg and New York is not new; it is just commercialisation at a more concentrated level.”

The likes of Arsenal and Newcastle have adopted brands in the naming of their stadiums. Manchester City and Chelsea have transformed their clubs from mid-table dwellers to domestic conquerors in the space of a few transfer windows due to endless investment from their billionaire owners. The German FA are trying to prevent a similar scenario with Leipzig, who have perhaps achieved the biggest turnaround in fortunes seen in football this century.

It’s completely understandable that the German FA are trying to maintain traditional values. Teams like Leipzig that go against the grain disrupt the balance in grassroots football. Just look at the quantity and quality of players Germany have produced over the last eight decades and compare that to the decline of home-grown players in England and tradition suddenly seems like a far better route than modernity.

But then again, the Premier League’s unpredictability only increases in accordance with its growing financial injection whereas the Bundesliga continues to mirror the barren landscapes of Serie A and the Scottish Premiership. Ultimately, the Bundesliga boils down to a brave effort from Dortmund before Bayern Munich wins the title once again as they have for the past four seasons.

Yes Leipzig are benefitting from financial facilitation but the football they’re playing deserves admiration. And if their ascent has Bayern and Dortmund looking nervously over their shoulders, surely some benefit has to come from Leipzig’s unwelcome gate crashing.

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