Rasenballsport Leipzig have a lot to prove. Unlike fellow newly promoted outfit Freiburg and unlike many of the sides that have made the jump from the second division of the Bundesliga to the first, RBL have the challenge of proving those that hate them in Germany wrong.
Currently the most loathed club in the country, RBL has a lot to thank the beverage company Red Bull for its rise to success, ever since its establishment in 2009. Since then, the club has made waves in German football, unsurprisingly so.
And the club's debut appearance in the Bundesliga was met with stern resentment from the crowd. First signs of hostility against the newly promoted club was witnessed when Dynamo Dresden fans ended up throwing a severed head of a bull on the pitch during RBL's DFB Pokal clash at Dresden and banners saying “Bulls for slaughter” were also unveiled. A week later, during RBL's debut Bundesliga clash at Julian Nagelsmann's Hoffenheim, TSG fans displayed banners saying : “Not everyone can be a plastic club - F*** RBL” and "We want our throne back: Germany’s most hated club”.
It's more than just clear that the club, which could've been named Red Bull Leipzig if their appeal to do the same would not have been rejected by the German football authorities, is a subject of much disdain. Although, football clubs from Eastern Germany have long been devoid of a proper footballing presence, but RBL are slowly coming close to altering the landscapes of German football, albeit in a detested manner.
And RBL's player acquisition policy is something which sparks uniqueness. “It is all about giving young, talented sportsmen the chance to develop. People come to the stadium because they want to follow a club and watch good football." says Sporting Director Ralf Rangnic, bringing to the fore RBL's approach to success on the pitch. And the summer acquisition of young Oliver Burke proves that perfectly.
Who is he?
Born in Scotland, but brought up in Leicester, Burke joined local club Mowbray Rangers at the age of eight in 2004. After plying his trade with Mowbray for around a year, Burke was scouted by Nottingham Forest and the winger joined the City Ground based club in 2005.
After playing for Forest's youth side for as many as nine years, Burke penned his first professional contract at the club in 2014, before making his debut for the senior side during 3-1 loss to Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur in the League Cup after coming on in the 87th minute of the game. In February next year, Burke made his league debut in a 4-4 draw against Blackpool, when the youngster came on in the 64th minute.
Ten days later, Burke was sent out on a month long loan to League One outfit Bradford and made just two appearances for the Bantams during his stint at the club, apart from being named on the bench twice. Right after Burke returned from his loan stay, he signed a new three-year contract with Forest.
A month before the 2015-16 campaign kicked off, Burke penned yet another three-year contract. Burke became a regular fixture of Forest's reserve side, before being called up to the senior side by Dougie Freedman. And it was clear that his break out was imminent. And the youngster scored his first ever goal for Forest against Cardiff City nine minutes into the game, as a curling shot from the outside of the right boot found the back of net, showing glimpses of what the winger is capable of. In January, Burke scored his second goal for the senior side in a 3-0 win over Bolton. In late February, Burke was tied down to another new four-year deal at the club, rewarding him for his impressive showings. Forest finished 16th in the 2015-16 season, with Burke scoring twice in 21 appearances.
As the era of new manager Phillipe Montanier approached, Burke made a strong impression on the former Rennes boss by scoring thrice in six appearances in the pre-season games. Burke scored once in Forest's 4-3 triumph over newly promoted Burton Albion on the first day of the new Championship campaign and found the net twice against Wigan Athletic in the second game of the campaign. Another goal against Garry Monk's Leeds United in a 3-1 win ensured that Burke was on the radar of giants such as Bayern Munich, Spurs, Arsenal, Manchester United and David Moyes' Sunderland.
Just three days prior to deadline day, Burke joined RBL by signing a five-year deal with Ralph Hasenhuttl's side for an undisclosed fee, which was reported to lie in the region of 13 million as per the BBC.
Burke's stock is on the rise internationally too, having made his debut for Scotland this past March after making a name for himself in the Under-19s side, for whom he had scored once in six appearances.
What kind of a player is he?
There goes a rather monotonous prejudice in football that players who have a burly body shape are not blessed with enough amount of pace, when compared to someone with a wiry frame. But Burke is someone who proves this prejudice wrong. 188 centimetres tall with 74 kilograms of weight, Burke happens to have a physique which is stronger than any other 19-year-old can have. And this helps Burke, when it comes to performing on the pitch, allowing him to be strong when when taking on defenders and beating them.
For Forest last season, Burke attempted 3.4 dribbles per game and showed the ability to go past defenders in a flash with the help of the pace he has on the ball. And what ensures and compliments his abilities on the ball is his impressive balance on it. And it obviously comes from his physicality, that allows him to dominate on the ball.
Burke's technique is quite impressive too and his first ever goal for Forest against Cardiff was a clear reflection of that. Few youngsters can pull of a curler from the outside of the right boot and score but Burke's pair of quick feet gives him the ability to pull these kinds of things.
And players with good and pace to take players on are always a nightmare for defenders and if these qualities couple with the amount of strength that Burke has, defenders would be frightened at the very sight of him. And that is something that makes Burke a really dangerous outlet on the right.
The 19-year-old's hold up, that roots from a sturdy body shape, can help players around him make runs off him. And his directness when running at the opposition defenses shows that he's got a lot of raw acceleration to offer, but his passing and indecisiveness around the box tends to let him down.
His passing percentage in the first four matches this season at Forest was a lowly 75 percent, which has to be improved. And last season, his passing percentage stood at 68.1 percent, which again is too low for a player who can become a complete package once he gets rid of this weakness.
Some of Burke's runs towards the box end up being tracked down or a bad pass gets cleared by the opposition. Slightly selfish in his approach when it comes to passing and trying to score, Burke needs to learn when to pass and when to shoot too.
Future at Leipzig?
Under Dougie Freedman early on this season, played as a right forward in a 4-3-3 formation, allowing Burke with the freedom to venture forward without any considerable headaches of tracking back to defend. And this worked in the youngster's favor, quite evidently.
And Hasenhuttl, who used a narrow 4-2-2-2 formation during the 2-2 draw Hoffenheim, played young Timo Werner and Yussuf Poulsen up front. And Burke's impressive hold up play, which allows his side to launch counter attack can actually help him play up front, rotating with Werner. Freedman's usage of Burke on the right of the 4-3-3 has clarified that the youngster excels in a role where he is relieved of defensive duties. And Hasenhuttl would also probably use the Scotsman as a right forward, considering he can't afford to change his formation due to the incoming of a single player.
RBL's modus operandi in the transfer market is a factor that would probably attract more youngsters, but Burke's switch from a club where he had become a fan favorite to the most hated club in Germany would take some amount of mental strength. The atmosphere in RBL games, especially when they play away from home would be boisterous and Burke isn't a player who is used to this.
And his future would depend a lot on his mental strength, much like what would be needed from him during the upcoming game against Borussia Dortmund. The BVB fans are boycotting their trip to Red Bull Arena, offering a reason by saying "Because we love football". And this attitude towards a club is probably just a sign of things to come. And Burke will look to make an impact at the club, which he will, but its not only about the on-pitch events, off-field events also matter a lot for someone as young as him.