October 19, 2017

Controversial off the Pitch, RB Leipzig will be Entertaining on the Pitch

RB Leipzig’s surge to the Bundesliga has been greeted with much publicised umbrage. An artificial corporate masterpiece looking for loopholes in the German system to create a footballing powerhouse; I loathe the Red Bull model in Leipzig,  However, they’re here now, and they’re likely here to stay.

My distaste for RB Leipzig is tame by much of Germany’s standards. In the recent DFB Pokal loss to Dynamo Dresden a severed bull’s head was thrown on to the pitch, a disgusting act of course, but it showcased the attitude towards the Red Bull club, this after Union Berlin fans kept silent for the first 15 minutes of a game against Die Roten Bullen.

The last two words of that paragraph are important: Roten Bullen. You don’t need to be fluent in Deutsch to understand that nickname of the Leipzig club. The official title is ‘RasenBallsport Leipzig’ – RasenBallsport roughly translates to lawn sports. When Red Bull were looking to obtain a German club to add to their stockpile of sports teams, their attempts to put ‘Red Bull’ in the club’s name were blocked by the DFB; fears over too much involvement from the company highlighted. I think we can all agree that without a drop of cynicism you can say it is no coincidence that the RB of Rasenballsport lines up so nicely with the initials of Red Bull.

This is the story of RB Leipzig, however, where any obstacle put in front of them is dealt with; an innovative alternative is found. The 50+1 rule is put in place to stop the overseas investment that has become rife across world football but Germany’s socialist approach to their clubs is not mirrored by RB Leipzig. So, how did they overcome the 50+1 rule in which members must have the majority share? Well, RB do have members as required, around 300 of them in fact: Bayern Munich have 277,000, Schalke have 145,000, second tier St Pauli come in at 23,000. RB Leipzig members must pay €800 a season; want to be a member at Bayern? It’s just €60 a season. There are clear discrepancies in the East German’s ‘member approach’.

It is evident as to why there is such revolt against the rise of RB Leipzig. Wolfsburg are bankrolled by Volkswagen, Bayer Leverkusen by the Bayer pharmaceutical company and Hoffenheim are bankrolled by billionaire Dietmar Hopp; however, there are nuances to these stories. Both the Wolves and Bayer were founded by workers of the companies that now subsidise them and Hoffenheim, the most controversial of the trio, are bankrolled by local businessman and former Hoffenheim amateur player Hopp, and additionally were founded in 1899, 110 year earlier than RB. The Leipzig club were founded in 2009, no previous involvement; no history.

All of that is needed to give context as to why RB Leipzig could be a truly exciting prospect in the Bundesliga this season. There have been major finances poured in by Red Bull both on the playing field – since 2009 RB Leipzig have spent €97.4m on transfers (source Transfermarkt) – and in a to a modern training complex. This hasn’t been rash spending, don’t be fooled, with Ralf Rangnick masterminding the project since 2012 that was never going to  happen. Intelligent, strong-minded and new-wave thinking has propelled Die Roten Bullen to the promise land, oh, and of course a lot of investment.

Rangnick: “We desperately wanted to sign Joe Gomez (of Charlton Athletic), who later chose Liverpool, and we were flying back from London to Leipzig with his agent,” Rangnick said. “In the plane, the agent said to me ‘Mr Rangnick, it’s a crying shame that you are so radical about who you sign and only go for players who are under 24 because I’ve got somebody who would be just perfect for you. It was Jamie Vardy.’ No, he’s 27, we’re not doing it’ I replied.”

Ralf Rangnick
Ralf Rangnick

The former Schalke and Hoffenheim boss is one of my favourite men in football.  Many students of modern German football see Rangnick as one of the heroes of ‘Das Reboot’ as Rafa Honigstein so smartly titled his incredible  recent  book on the upward trend of German football following some bleak times.  Under Rangnick RB Leipzig are accumulating one of Germany’s brightest young squads. The likes of Davie Selke (21), Olympic silver medallist Lukas Klostermann (20), Massimo Bruno (22, just loaned to Anderlecht to get more playing time) and Marcel Sabitzer (22) have been complimented by some terrific summer arrivals. Timo Werner (20) has joined from Stuttgart, Naby Keita (21) and Bernardo (21) have joined from the sister club in Salzburg and in one of the more surprising transfers of the summer, Scottish teenager Oliver Burke has joined from Nottingham Forest for a €12m transfer fee.

As summer business goes, RB Leipzig can give themselves a pat on the back.
In what could be described as ‘Der Plastiker’, or ‘El Plastico’ RB Leipzig took on Hoffenheim – the Sudkurve at the Rhein-Neckar Arena feature a flag saying ‘we want our throne as Germany’s most hated club back’ just to emphasise this. I’m excited about Hoffenheim under Julien Nagelsmann and for all of the Bundesliga’s opening weekend contests, it was their late Sunday match that caught my eye. It didn’t disappoint.

The first-half was enthralling enough, and that was goalless, however, a second half which delivered four goals and a last-minute equalizer really topped off the Bundesliga season-opening weekend.

Lukas Rupp opened the scoring for Hoffenheim ten minutes after the restart only for one of the elder statesman of the side, and former Hoffenheim player, Dominik Kaiser, to draw RB level with a smart finish at the near post. Nagelsmann’s side rallied round, however, and a counter attack supplied Mark Uth with the chance to score what would be a lat e winner. 2-1, seven minutes to go. It would have been truly unjust if RB Leipzig had returned east without anything to show for their efforts and in the 90th minute Benno Schmitz drilled in a low, dangerous cross and one of RBL’s bright starlets, Marcel Sabitzer,was there to level proceedings. It may not have been the win RB craved, but the start to their Bundesliga campaign under new coach Ralph Hasenhüttl showed plenty of promise.

RB were under the guidance of Ralf Rangnick from upstairs and from the touchline last season. As Alexander Zorniger departed the Red Bull Arena for Stuttgart last summer – a job that proved to be a poisoned chalice for many coaches – Rangnick took over the reins for what proved to be a promotion campaign. His managerial career may be considered as undistinguished by many but he encapsulates the RB model of doing things differently in the face of adversity and controversy. Now he is back upstairs and the Hasenhüttl was brought in.

Hasenhüttl guided Ingolstadt to the top flight and in a stellar first season, took them to an 11th placed finish. The Austrian joined Ingolstadt as they were rock bottom of the second tier in October 2013; by May 2015 they’d clinched the 2.Bundesliga title and were bound for the Bundesliga. At Ingolstadt Hasenhüttl largely deployed a 4-3-3 but showed tactical flexibility with a 4-4-2 and also a narrow diamond in midfield. Against Hoffenheim with his new club it seemed to be a fluid 4-4-2 with Timo Werner given greater freedom and Yussuf Poulsen staying more centrally in the strike pairing. Hasenhüttl is a bright coach with an impressive record to boot ,and with greater talent at his disposal, the way he utilises it is going to make fascinating viewing.

So, it’s happened. Few people wanted it but RB Leipzig are in the Bundesliga and they’re beginning to make an impact already. In the footballing wilderness of East Germany that has been devoid of any success in so long, RB Leipzig are gathering pace. They may be despised outside of Leipzig but an average attendance of 30,000 shows that at least they are winning the hearts of those in the city.

In the long-running TV drama ‘House’ Hugh Laurie’s character says, ‘if nobody hates you you’re doing something wrong,’ and ‘nobody likes us, we don’t care’ is the motto being uttered in Leipzig. They say that Red Bull gives you wings, well RB Leipzig certainly look set to fly for a long time to come.

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Will always root for BVB but I have a soft spot for most Bundesliga sides. Except Bayern. I'm a frustrated Arsenal fan who writes on leagues across Europe but nothing quite matches the Bundesliga. Follow on Twtitter @alexblinston_

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