September 23, 2017

Final RB Leipzig Watch: Can’t We Just Be Happy for Leipzig?

(Editor: This piece is the final installment of a series covering RasenBallsport Leipzig’s seemingly inevitable promotion to the Bundesliga at the end of this 2015-16 season. The eastern German club qualified for direct promotion into the Bundesliga, sitting at 2nd place in the Bundesliga 2. behind champs SC Freiburg. In this series, Max Regenhuber documents the energy drink company-backed club’s march to the top flight. If you’re new to this topic, check out our topic tag for RB Leipzig.)

By Max Regenhuber

Here are three trivia questions (don’t scroll or look down!):

  1. Who was the very first German champion?
  2. Where was the German Football Association (DFB) founded?
  3. What game had the highest attendance in German football history and where was it played?

Answers:

1._VfB Leipzig became the first official German champion when they beat the FC Prague (the Czech territory was then part of Germany) in 1903’s championship final. The VfB added two more championships in 1906 and 1913, before two World Wars derailed everything and the Soviet Union took control of Leipzig.

2. Leipzig, Germany’s football capital before the World Wars.

3. GDR vs. Czechoslovakia (1:4), in 1957, at the Zentralstadion Leipzig with 110,000 in attendance.

I guess we can all agree that it’s a good thing that Leipzig, with all that football pedigree, gets to have a Bundesliga club, right? We’ll get to that controversial stuff in a second, but first let’s set a celebratory mood. PROMOTION!

Davie Selkie selfie
Bundesliga promotion selfie time.

Leipzig is Back – a Great German City’s Pride Restored

A sell out crowd of 43,000 in the stands exploded after RB made it 2:0 against Karlsruher SC with 5 minutes to go. Coming into this match, Leipzig needed another three points to secure promotion and that goal finally sent them up to the top flight for good.

Here are some images of what happened in Leipzig afterward the win:

 

If you can’t at least be happy for the people of Leipzig, I don’t think you get what football is all about: People having fun.

East Germany’s Pride Also Restored

Energie Cottbus in 2009 was the last former GDR team in the top flight.
Energie Cottbus in 2009 was the last former GDR team in the top flight.

After Energie Cottbus was relegated in 2009, exactly zero teams from East Germany (population 16 million) have been Bundesliga members. The West German state North Rhine-Westphalia (population 17 million) has five teams of its own in the top flight by contrast: BVB, Schalke, Bayer 04, Gladbach and Cologne.

West Germans have to admit that East German football got screwed over big time when the DDR and BRD football leagues merged in 1992. The DDR clubs became collateral damage during a rushed transition from socialism to capitalism and this is one of the reasons why East Germans still feel like second class citizens in Germany sometimes, all their clubs are second or third tier.

Everyone knew that the East clubs would fail in head to head competition against West clubs, since all that great GDR talent like Matthias Sammer or Ulf Kirsten moved West as soon as the Berlin Wall came down. East German football clubs were thrown into a deep swimming pool and told “learn to swim”.

When the East clubs “drowned” as expected the West acted sorry and surprised, even though they never gave the East a life vest or reached down to help them up.

Hansa Rostock celebrates an away win at Bayern in 1996, one of the few instances where the East beat the West.
Hansa Rostock celebrates an away win at Bayern in 1996, one of the few instances where the East beat the West.

 

We all know how the Bundesliga works, good teams stay up and collect big TV checks, while bad teams stay down and get poorer every year.

Without corporate involvement, it’s basically impossible to establish yourself among the big dogs. Even Darmstadt and Augsburg, so called “small time clubs” have huge local corporations behind them (Google “Merck” and “Kuka” if you don’t believe me).

The East always had one problem, however: there are no mega companies like Volkswagen or SAP in East Germany.

So the financial gap between the East and West widened each year, hooligans and right wing extremists took advantage of the frustration in the stands and East German football turned into a violent lower division product, without any hope.

Sponsors, casual fans and families simply stayed away which of course added more problems. RB is getting these people back into the stands, because the club has a zero tolerance policy towards racism, violence and other “traditions” that aren’t worth keeping around. It’s beautiful to see coloured players like Davie Selke and Yusuf Poulsen get cheered on in Leipzig, not too long ago players of color were verbally abused when they played in front of East crowds.

We the Wessis (slang term for West Germans in the East) were happy to see guys like Michael Ballack and Matthias Sammer do great things for Western clubs and our national team, but we never gave a shit about what happened to the ex-GDR clubs that made them.

The tide turned when Red Bull identified the unused potential, came to Leipzig and built a Bundesliga club in just seven years. Call RB “plastic club and marketing tool” all you want, but this is still better than everything Leipzig had before.

RB’s promotion is also a middle finger to the West German football establishment, who act like RedBull’s involvement is the “death to football”, after decades of standing around and watching East German football die slowly. Now the establishment starts to care?

Had the West given the East a fair shot, RedBull might have never gotten the opportunity to step in. Maybe the VFB Leipzig would still be alive and well.

The East German economy and public funds were helped out by the West German taxpayers, to this day 5,5% of my taxes go into a fund, that is used to help out East Germany. The DFB and the West clubs should have implemented a similar “West to East” revenue sharing model, to even the odds during the tough transition period. But they didn’t and now shouldn’t complain that an outsider is taking advantage of the situation they created.

The Tables Have Turned

RB Leipzig facilities
RB Leipzig’s facilities. On par with Bayern, Real or ManU.

 

“This time around, WE are the ones with more money, so suck it.”

That’s the vibe I get from my East German co-workers, who are actually Union Berlin fans and not too fond of RB.

They still find it hilarious that capitalism destroyed East German football and nobody cared, now that capitalism is restoring football in the East, people in the West lose their minds.

For the first time in reunified German history, a club from the East isn’t joining the league as some broke underdog, happy to sit at the big boy table for a while. Leipzig actually has long term ambitions and the potential to represent Germany in Europe and win domestic silverware, these privileges used to be a “West German clubs only” thing.

So the protest against RB and “the business of football” is just a masquerade, in reality the fans of great and formerly great West clubs simply don’t want serious competition.

Fans in places like Kaiserslautern feel entitled to eternally have a great club in town, they don’t want to admit that their clubs destroyed themselves with mismanagement, corruption, bad business and personnel decisions. So they blame Wolfsburg, Hoffenheim and RB.

The mentality is “If your club isn’t 100 years old and doesn’t have at least 100k fans, it shouldn’t exist. Kill it with fire!”

Well, those fans should push for a closed NFL style system, because the Bundesliga (and every other league in Europe) was designed as an open system.

It should be normal that new teams pop up every once in awhile, yet it isn’t normal because the big teams in West Germany have manipulated the system in their favour.

I don’t think it matters what the logo looks like or the name of the team is, a name like “FC Leipzig” or “Leipziger SV” would be just as artificial as “RB Leipzig”. If 40,000 people enjoy themselves in a peaceful environment, who cares that RedBull is also getting something out of it?

The “traditionalists” who protest and spill hate in internet comment sections, are only bringing the region, the fans and the players closer together. It’s “Us versus Them” for every RB fan and citizen of Leipzig. For example, RB is #1 in attendance in 2.Liga, had good away crowds all year (even on Friday night trips) and this is just “year seven” of this club’s existence.

People in Leipzig are so hungry for football that I believe RB will be a great addition to the Bundesliga in terms of support and atmosphere.The people in Leipzig now get the chance to fill this club with their own history and tradition. RedBull might own the car, put the people of Leipzig get to drive it.

“In 500 years, Bayern Munich will be 600 years old and we will be 500 years old. That’s all there is to it” are are the words of RedBull’s owner Mateschitz and I have to agree with him.

If you think that RedBull just wants to make a quick buck and leave, you haven’t been paying attention. Just look at the facilities RB has built and you can see that this is a long term thing.

How will the story continue in 2016/17?

Davie Selke “beer showers” Ralf Rangnick moments after the coach pulled a hamstring when trying to evade his striker.
Davie Selke “beer showers” Ralf Rangnick moments after the coach pulled a hamstring when trying to evade his striker.

First, everybody needs to chill with the expectations. RB Leipzig will not challenge Bayern, Dortmund and Leverkusen right away.

On transfermarkt.de, Leipzig’s squad is valued at ca. 40 million Euros, the roster of Hannover 96 is worth 54 million by the way. RB Leipzig is most definitely not a German version of Chelsea, PSG or Man City. After all, RB wasn’t even the best team in 2.Liga this year, they will need time to adjust to  Ralf Hasenhüttl and the club will not buy any players older than 24. It would be against Rangnick’s philosophy to bring in veterans that can help immediately, so many of the flaws this RB team showed in 2016 will still be there in 2017.

So let’s think ahead and break down the possibilities for RB Leipzig in the 2016/17 Bundesliga:

Best-case Scenario: Europa League
Hoffenheim's Kevin Volland, one of the many potential RB signees.
Hoffenheim’s Kevin Volland, one of the many potential RB signees.

The likes of Kevin Volland, Ron Robert Zieler, Bernd Leno, Breel Embolo, Timo Werner and Niklas Süle are just some of names linked with Leipzig. These players are all 24 and younger and fit the RB profile.

Should Rangnick get three or four of these guys, I could totally see RB doing better than Ingolstadt this year and maybe finish 6th.

After all, in division two, RB had to play against a brick wall in every match and never was able to fully utilize the speedsters Poulsen and Sabitzer. Life could actually be easier for RB in 1.Liga simply because Leipzig will get more time and space on the ball.

Worst-case Scenario: Relegation

Well, behind Bayern and Dortmund the Bundesliga is wide open. The difference between Relegation and a Europa League spot is just 14 points at the moment. Even teams with talented rosters and money like Stuttgart or HSV aren’t safe, so nobody can expect that inexperienced RB squad to dominate.

The two biggest problems for RB this year were shot conversion and individual mistakes at the back that even 2.Liga teams were able to exploit.

If the likes St. Pauli and Sandhausen can hit you on the break, Dortmund will probably annihilate you and it will be 0:3 after 10 minutes. So there is still a ton of work to do, before I would call RB a lock to stay up.

It’s also easy to forget that Leipzig will be treated like a fierce local rival by every away crowd and will never get that “underrated underdog” role that Darmstadt enjoyed all year.

Realistic Scenario

Some new players will join and the team will be better, but there will be growing pains and an adjustment period. The quality of the squad should earn enough points to stay up, though.

If things don’t look good around Christmas time, RedBull can always bring in some veteran leadership in January. Therefore relegation seems pretty unlikely, yet it’s just as unlikely that RB can challenge the big dogs right away.

All in all, we need to wait until August 31st, the day the transfer window closes. Then we’ll know what team Leipzig will field. Right now, they are a total wildcard.

That’s it for the “RB Leipzig Watch” in 2.Bundesliga.

There will be a big piece about the RB Leipzig “controversy” out soon and maybe a transfer update or two in the summer.

Otherwise, we’ll be back after Euro 2016, when the journey of the Bulls continues in the top flight.

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