New Series: The RB Leipzig Watch – the Story So Far

(Editor: This piece is the beginning 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 is sitting confidently at 1st place in the Bundesliga 2 table with a sizable gap between themselves and clubs #2 and #3. Promotion seems extremely likely for this most polarizing of German clubs. In this series, Max Regenhuber will document 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

2009: Austrian energy drink giant RedBull starts buying football club licenses of bankrupt 5th division teams and founds a football club.

2016: Seven years of controversy and millions of Euros later RB sits in first place in Germany’s 2. Bundesliga.

In other words, the plan of mastermind Ralf Rangnick, who was also responsible for Hoffenheim’s rise to the Bundesliga on SAP money, worked again.

That RB Leipzig will be the 55th team in Bundesliga history next year seems like the surest bet in German football.

If you put 10€ on RB’s promotion you only win 1,20€; by contrast, a bet on 3rd place Nürnberg (established in 1900) would pay you 40€.

The cynical theory that “history, tradition and fans means nothing in today’s football world, because money is everything” has been confirmed in front of all our eyes.

The Newest Retorte-Verein

So I obviously understand why supporters of all over Germany literally hate the Roten Bullen. They are annoyed by the rise of clubs without any merit besides sugar daddy sponsorships. Most prominently, Bayer 04, Wolfsburg, RedBull and Hoffenheim are called “Retorten Vereine,” a name signifying a club developed in a sterile laboratory environment without any heart or tradition.

This development begins with Bayer, who was the first mega corporation to obtain a Bundesliga team for marketing purposes in the early 80s. Later, car makers VW (VfL Wolfsburg in 1997) and SAP founder Hopp (Hoffenheim in 2008) have clubs too. In these three cases, the corporation or individual owns the majority stake in the Bundesliga club, contra the league’s famous 50+1 rule.

RB Leipzig will be the fourth such club next year.

With their investor backing, “Plastik Clubs” are pricing traditional teams out of the Bundesliga. For example, traditional Bundesliga derbies like Kaiserslautern vs. Eintracht Frankfurt, Stuttgart vs. Karlsruhe SC, or Bayern vs. Nürnberg are just a few examples of great match ups the league has lost lost over time. Great away support and rivalry lore made these games something special. Nowadays, artificial teams with no background story are the visiting teams and rarely bring more than a thousand fans with them.

What makes RB’s model so controversial compared to other plastic clubs is that RedBull isn’t investing in an existing club, they built one for themselves only for marketing purposes.

Another fact that makes RB so scary is that they simply picked a big market to launch their team. In the case of RedBull and the city of Leipzig, there is no local connection or history between the corporation and city, like there is in Wolfsburg between the city and Volkswagen.

Barely Legal

Moreover, RB are also bending every DFL rule to accomplish the mission. For example, DFL regulations require that a club runs on democratic principles and member’s votes decide what happens. Well, Leipzig only has 9 club members (coincidently they are all RedBull employees), because they charge 800€ a year for membership. RB has a separate supporters club where people can sign up for 100€, but that membership doesn’t grant you a vote. So Leipzig has engineered a club that is legal by DFL rules, yet isn’t an actual club (if that makes sense) by

Another trick RedBull pulled was “changing” the logo and team name just enough to be legal. Since the DFL bans sponsor names and logos as official club crest, etc., RedBull named the club RasenBallsport and the logo was “modified” just enough to be legal, as you can see in this graphic:

RBLeipzigLogoEvolution

 

 

Basically RB found a couple of loopholes in DFL regulations and exploited them.

The DFL can’t really do much about it, since many of the DFL regulations (like the 50+1 rule) could easily be challenged in the EU supreme court, since the DFL is technically restricting free enterprise.

Originally, RedBull owner Dietrich Mateschitz didn’t even want to make any logo changes and wanted simply to sue the DFL right away instead. After many discussions, DFL and RedBull agreed on the current “compromise.”

Let’s Have Some Perspective

Personally, as a Hertha BSC fan, I don’t really have any bad feelings about Leipzig. Hertha got the same kind of hatred because they play in 75k seater stadium that was paid for with taxpayer money and always seem to have outside investors.

Furthermore, everything that Hertha is doing at the moment wouldn’t be possible if Wall Street firm KKR hadn’t loaned us 60 million a couple years back. Solomon Kalou and Vladimir Darida would not play for us without that Wall Street cash, so it would be extremely hypocritical of me to point fingers at Leipzig. Besides, Adidas, Audi and Allianz each own 8,33% of Bayern. And Dortmund has as a similar deal with Puma and Signal Iduna. Corporate money is deeply embedded in the Bundesliga.

Another reason I’m okay with RB rise and presence is that I always try to look at the situation from a perspective of a 10 year old kid out of Leipzig. This kid was three years old when RB was founded, so it will not understand the difference between Dynamo Dresden and RasenBallsport.

Over time, the controversy will die and RB will be seen as a normal club, the same thing that happened with “Pillenclub” Leverkusen, “VW” Wolfsburg and Hoffenheim “18,99€”.

The fundamental problem is that supporters and silverware can’t score any goals, only good players can. And since good players cost money, “getting money” is the foundation for any success in professional football. Hate it or love it, but that’s the reason they call it professional football.

Most of the clubs behind RB in the 2. Liga table never made the transition from local club to a professional football company. The varying presidents of Nürnberg, KSC and FCK all did a terrible job in the post-Bosman era and missed opportunities to implement professional structures. Morever, club members elected guys who over-promised stuff and and bought “Freibier” for fans, instead of skilled business professionals to do the books and run the club. That’s why plastic clubs, with their corporate structures are killing them.

Karlsruher-SC-v-RB-Leipzig-2

I totally understand any fan that makes a banner (not gonna translate the one in the picture) or even boycott RB games. But this hatred has gotten a little out of hand lately and led to violent acts against RB officials and supporters. I condemn these acts and everybody else should too. No matter what RedBull has done, violence is never justified.

The On-Field Product

Let’s ignore all this controversy for a minute and focus on the game of football. As a Hertha fan I had to watch way too many 2. Liga games, so unfortunately I know what I’m talking about.

RB has assembled the best 2. Bundesliga roster I have ever seen. Four out of the five most expensive deals ever signed in 2nd division football were made by RB. In fact, Leipzig players are worth 1.6 million € on average according to transfermarkt.de while an average 2. Liga player is valued at only 629k. The average age of RB’s team is 24 only goalkeeper Coltorti (35 years old) is a true veteran.

What Rangnick has put together in looks like an All Star team of Europe’s hottest prospects. Offensively Emil Forsberg out of Sweden is a legit star and plays as a number 10 that likes to drift to the wings often.

Additionally, Denmark’s Yussuf Poulsen is a striker who combines power with finese plays alongside Davie Selke up front.

Selke might be Germany’s best forward prospect ever since Mario Gomez’ glory days in Stuttgart, so he was brought in from Werder Bremen for 8 million Euros, obviously an all-time record transfer fee in 2. Liga. These three are the stars of this team and would probably start at many first division clubs all over Europe.

RasenBallsport’s tactical set up can’t really be evaluated while they are in 2. Bundesliga. Since they are the Bayern of the league, all teams outside of Freiburg park the bus against RB and hope for a lucky set piece or a counter.

So much of what RB is doing right now will not carry over into the 1. Bundesliga, where opponents will open it up more. I don’t want to scare anybody, but playing in division one might actually be easier for RB because they will get more time and space, instead of searching for cracks in a brick wall every game.

Matchday 20: Eintracht Braunschweig at RB Leipzig

RB went into Sunday’s game against Eintracht 5 points clear of 3rd place 1.FC Nürnberg. First and second place go up straight into Liga eins, while 3rd place puts you in a tricky Relegation playoff matchup. So all RB cares about is the gap between them and 3rd place.
Since “der Club” had won it’s Saturday game at 1860 Munich, pressure was on RB to bring the cushion back up to 8 points. Braunschweig needed a win badly to keep in touch with Nürnberg, who was only one point ahead of the Lions before this gameday.

Rangnick switched from the usual 4-3-3 formation to a 4-2-3-1 replacing Selke with false nine Marcel Sabitzer, to have more ball control and a crowded midfield. That change was necessary to combat Braunschweig’s quick transition game. And it worked amazingly well and shows how good, deep and flexible that RB roster is.

RB had 66% possession and launched attack after attack without ever granting Eintracht enough time and space to get anything going on the break. RB’s Gegenpressing is work of art, it takes them five seconds to get back into their defensive stance and all their offensive players work hard to harass whoever intercepted the ball. Braunschweig had no other choice but to park the bus, boot the ball into the stands and foul whenever RB’s studs gained any steam.

Two of the many set pieces gave RB a 2:0 lead after half an hour and killed the game because Eintracht had to open up more and was lucky that they weren’t down 5:0 at half because the Bulls got rolling after every successful ball retention.

Leipzig’s trio Forsberg, Sabitzer and Poulsen is just too much for any 2. Bundesliga defense, whenever they get a little space they create dangerous scoring chances.

Especially, Forsberg impressed me and if I was a Premier League manager I would blow up RB’s phone every day from now on with offers.

https://youtu.be/W851JP3HgLs?t=57s

The young Swede plays with a swagger you normally never see in a second division game and he is man among boys in the 2. Bundesliga.

Behind the artists skipper Dominik Kaiser and Austrian international Ilsanker had midfield under control and Compper & Orban in central defense took care of the rest. Fullbacks Jung & Klostermann rarely had to do anything in defense and joined every attack on their side.

In the second half RB sat a little deeper and waited for counter attack opportunities, Braunschweig did the best they could with that space but only created one and half (I’m being generous) chances. The game had a similar vibe like a Barcelona vs. Levante game, where you can feel that players get bored because they aren’t challenged at all.

What makes this so crazy is that RB’s game was top five matchup where both teams challenge for promotion and these are supposed to be close. Well, RB now has a five game lead over the Lions who seven points away from the 3rd place now and. Leipzig also kept 4th place St.Pauli eleven points away from them and took a big leap toward promotion, because second place Freiburg, the team most likely to catch up to the Bullen lost in Bochum this week and are two games behind them now.

2015/16 Rest of Rückrunde Preview

How Leipzig’s Bulls come out of the next weeks will ultimately decide if they go up or not.
Next week a pretty uncomfortable away date with St. Pauli and it’s left wing, anti capitalist supporters at the Millerntor is scheduled. This will be a do-or-die game for Pauli who are a game behind Nürnberg at the moment and need every single point they can get. RB would be OK with a draw in this one.

From Matchday 20 to 23 easier matchups with Union, Paderborn and Heidenheim are on the menus, before Leipzig will face their toughest challengers @Freiburg and @Nürnberg in the span of three weeks.

On March 20th when these two matches have been played, Leipzig could already be out of reach for anybody, if they get out of this tough slate with their points cushion intact.
RB will not play anybody good during the last nine games and it would be crazy to assume that Freiburg and Nürnberg will win 9 out of 9 during that stretch.

So Ralf Rangnick, who became interim coach since Alexander Zorniger was let go for missing out on promotion, can start looking for a new coach (he wants to return to his GM role) and players who can help RB battle Bayern & Dortmund next year.

Future Plans

Nobody knows what kind of money RedBull wants to spend on this project, but it is pretty clear that RedBull hasn’t even started yet.

RedBull’s other European football club in Salzburg dominates Austria like a FC Bayern on steroids, winning every championship since 2010. Salzburg is also run by GM Rangnick so he creates some synergy effects by sending players back and forth between those clubs.
In Formula One RB’s team won four titles in a row with Sebastian Vettel. Outside of the popular sports RedBull sponsors events like airplane races, jumps from outta space and motorcycle daredevils.

That’s what sets RB apart from other “plastic clubs” who are less aggressive in their approach. Hoffenheim’s boss Hopp for example has reduced his financial aid steadily and is happy with a mediocre team. Volkswagen and Bayer were also never really a threat to the traditional German football powerhouses. But RedBull is an “in your face” lifestyle brand that doesn’t care about upsetting people. An energy drink company can also never be perceived as mediocre or boring so I bet they haven’t committed 100 million in the Leipzig project to compete with Mainz and Augsburg in mid table. Regular Champions League appearances with international exposure are the the long term objective. So even BVB and Bayern fans shouldn’t feel safe, Ferrari and Mercedes probably also didn’t think RedBull would go straight at them in Formula One.

Nobody has to like what they did but this plan RedBull executed is brilliant. Instead of spending big money for an established club in England or Spain, they “only” spent 100 million to build a club from scratch in Leipzig. That amount of money buys you two years of Manchester United jersey sponsorship or two Anthony Martials in 2016’s Premier League market.

The “bang for the buck” is way better in Germany where only Bayern has real financial firepower and the Bundesliga therefore offers a “cheap” route into the Champions League.

A perfectly good stadium was already built in Leipzig and the state of Saxony is a region where people haven’t had a top division outfit since VfB Leipzig got relegated in 1992. Whenever Die Mannschaft played in the Zentralstadion the atmosphere was fantastic and the fans seemed really into it.

Traditional GDR clubs from that region like Dynamo Dresden, Erfurt & Chemnitz suffered badly after the reunification process in the 90’s and are a non factor in German football today, so Leipzig was probably the last remaining vacated market of that size in all of Europe.

You wouldn’t find a better market to launch a club than Leipzig if you would use cheat codes in a football manager video game.

600.000 people live there and there are many cities in that area like Weimar, Erfurt or Halle which are only an hour away by car.

RB’s infrastructure is already on a Champions League level. Home matches are played in the “RedBull Arena” with a capacity of 42.000. The originally named “Zentralstadion” was built for Deutschland 2006, but was pretty useless before RB was founded, simply because Leipzig’s traditional clubs (Sachsen & Lokomotive) weren’t going anywhere. Average RB home game attendance is at 28.000 this season but will go up for sure once Bayern, Schalke and Dortmund visit Leipzig.

The so-called RB Ultras have created a proper home atmosphere with actually pretty vocal support.

Moreover, the youth academy has already produced Bayern München’s Wunderkind Joshua Kimmich and is run by the same guy who was responsible for VFB Stuttgart’s academy when Gomez, Khedira, Hinkel, Kuranyi and Gentner became pros. He seems to be pretty good at his job and naturally no expenses were spared when RB built the facilities, who are rumored to be as nice as the ones FC Bayern has.

Professor Rangnick is building a global football structure with branches in Austria, Germany, America and Brazil that produces talent for all RedBull affiliated clubs. Rangnick said in an interview that he wants to use RedBull money to “create market value”, instead of buying expensive talent.

To make matters worse for all RB critics, Rangnick has an extremely good eye for affordable talent. If you give him 10 million he will get a you a young quality player that can be sold for 20 million a few years later. At Hoffenheim Demba Ba, Sead Salihovic and Carlos Eduardo were some of his first big signings and if he hasn’t lost his nose for good deals, he could have RB in the Champions League by 2020.

Must Watch Match 

You might want to watch the “2. Liga El Classico” Leipzig at Freiburg on March 7th, which is a monday night primetime game at 20:15 CET, this one is by far the best match up this league has to offer. The match in the Hinrunde was awesome.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yXZ-DiIj-Xk

You can find a thorough recap of RasenBallsport Leipzig’s history on Wikipedia.

Discussion

It would be nice if you’d to leave your personal opinion on the RB Leipzig project in the comment section and get a discussion going. There are many valid points to be made on that subject from both angles. Just be civil and kind though.

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