The Eastern Anomaly – RB Leipzig
Getty Images/John MacDougall

The Eastern Anomaly – RB Leipzig

Leipzig have had a controversial rise to the top of German football to say the least. In a time where the football landscape of Germany can be challenging, their story is quite unique in many ways. 

charlie-fox
Charlie Fox

It's no secret which teams are sponsored by Red Bull. New York, Sao Paulo, Salzburg, Sogakope and Leipzig all have squads with the logo of the worlds biggest energy drink brand plastered in the middle. Salzburg are one of the biggest teams in Austria, New York boast the likes of Bradley Wright-Phillips and his 108 goals. The teams in Sopakope and Sao Paulo are still very up and coming, no doubt having the scope to develop well.

However, of all the Red Bull branded teams, the most despised and unwelcomed arrival without a doubt has been the Leipzig division. The premise of the club is everything that German football is against. Having a large corporation bankrolling a team in the topflight is a violation of the 50+1 rule dictating that the fans need to have majority ownership of the team. Exceptions have been allowed to the rule, Wolfsburg are owned by automotive giant Volkswagen and Bayer Leverkusen are owned by the Bayer pharmaceutical empire.

The East/West divide

Naturally, the process and legitimacy of the move was questioned by many people in German football. Beyond the legal nature of the takeover, there were also questions asked about who the fans were making up the 51% of the ownership, as it emerged that many of them worked for the Red Bull corporation.

If you look past all of this and yes granted you must look hard and pretty far there is quite a poetic story. Leipzig resides in the Eastern half of Germany, a half previously behind the West in many ways. The end of the Soviet occupation of East Germany spelt reunification in Germany, reunified culture, people and football. Before Leipzig came to the Bundesliga for the first time in the 2014/15 season the last team to play in the top flight from the East was Energie Cottbus back in the 2008/09 season. Most teams from the East play in the lower leagues, even one of the most infamous East German teams in Dynamo Dresden have been confined to the 2.Bundesliga after struggling in the infancy of a joint Bundesliga.

The real question is can any other team from the East mimic this success? Not unless another multimillion Euro company plans on challenging the entire structure of German football. A large percentage of the clubs in the topflight have kits sponsored by businesses within Germany, ranging from Schwarzwaldmilch who sponsor Freiburg to Hertha Berlin sponsors TEDi. Other than Leipzig there are only three teams in the league who are sponsored by brands based elsewhere. Frankfurt, Schalke and Union Berlin have sponsors in the USA, Russia and Luxembourg respectively.

The reality of the league

The sheer fact of the matter is that the clubs in the east do not have the same economic calibre of businesses around them as their Western counterparts. The 50+1 rule doesn’t make the league that appealing to millionaires and billionaires as the clubs are technically non-profit organisations, hence they can’t reap the rewards of extortionately priced tickets like they can in the Premier League.

Despite this, there are still world-class players being made and wanting transfers all over Germany because of the pedigree that the leagues have. And honestly what is there not to like about the way German football is run? Low ticket prices that encourage all to watch football. Great rivalries, with the arrival of the first topflight Berlin derby that the German people have ever seen along with the umpteenth running of the Revierderby between Borussia Dortmund and Schalke 04.

So as 'Rasen Bull' Leipzig line up this weekend at home to reigning champions Bayern Munich with the opportunity to continue their unbeaten run at the top of the table, they can all stay satisfied at the fact they are going to be the best in the east for a long time. Regardless of how they got there and what it took. However, all the fans of clubs like Dynamo Dresden, Carl Zeiss Jena, 1.FC Magdeburg and FSV Zwickau will also all be satisfied, knowing that although their clubs aren’t the biggest or the best, they are going about their business in their own way. The fans will still love the football all the same.

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