The RB Leipzig dilemma: Revolutionising German football or destroying the sacred culture?

Will they ever win everyone round, or is the opposition here to stay?

The RB Leipzig dilemma: Revolutionising German football or destroying the sacred culture?
The RB Leipzig dilemma: Revolutionising German football or destroying the sacred culture?

Red Bull and German football. An association that began tentatively in 2006, just a year after the energy drink giant took over in Salzburg. While it would take three years to finally get their feet in the door, there were several prior attempts to takeover other German clubs. That included another in Leipzig.

The unsuccessful start

The first unsuccessful shot was taken where the team are based now, with FC Sachsen Leipzig. Formerly the historic BSG Chemie and in financial trouble, they were sponsored by Michael Kölmel. He is a film magnate and wealthy businessman, who also happened to own the Zentralstadion – where RB Leipzig now call home. That of course changed at the tail end of 2016, as Red Bull bought the stadium and immediate area surrounding it.

A chance to return to the top of the football pyramid, €50m of investment promised; surely a no brainer? Nope. Not close. The plans to change the club name and colours were vetoed by the DFB, and fan violence became ever more prevalent across the city; Red Bull decided to pull away. BSG, after another fresh start, are now beginning to ascend the divisions and enjoy ferocious support despite being limited to a 4,999 capacity stadium; Alfred-Kunze-Sportpark.

Perhaps the problems with the fans may have been a notion for the MNC to not go after a club with a sizeable fanbase. Instead, next on the list was FC St. Pauli. Anyone with any knowledge of German football fans knows that the Hamburg-based club have one of the most passionate and vocal sets of supporters in the country. Extremely active in the community, St. Pauli had backed the Austria Salzburg protests against Red Bull just months before and it was immediately clear that things would not be going any further.

1860 Munich came and went quickly, as did Fortuna Düsseldorf where more fan protests showed there was absolutely no appetite for a Red Bull franchise to take hold of one of Germany’s most historic clubs. So back to the East they went, and a trip further down the footballing ladder followed. Having gone after several high profile sides and being pushed away by DFB rules and fan ownership alone, Dietrich Mateschitz finally saw sense and dipped down into the lower tiers of the German game.

The East was the easy target. Ironically it was just 12 days before Energie Cottbus’ relegation play-off defeat to 1. FC Nürnberg – which left the East without Bundesliga club – that RB Leipzig came to be. That drought would only end this year when Leipzig reached the plateau.

The beginning of the Bulls

With a man like Kölmel holding such power in the city, the return to Leipzig was paved through SSV Markranstädt. A club that had only just reached the Oberliga a few years prior and that had been founded in 1990, it represented a huge chance for the businessmen to have their way and secure a playing licence close to Leipzig. Negotiations were with, as the minnows were keen to close a deal that would secure their financial status for years to come. it was done, Red Bull Leipzig  - to be RasenBallsport - were created.

While some seem to cite the club as a shining light for a destitute East, Leipzig was performing to a very high standard in terms of living standards and economically. DHL moved operations to Leipzig/Halle airport, the city is home to Siemens, BMW, Porsche and Amazon no less.

Situated in the heart of Europe in a beautiful city which is clean, friendly and constantly being placed near the top of any must see/visit list, Mateschitz and Kölmel were sitting on a goldmine. That is without the mention of the city’s struggling football situation, who wanted a return to the big time.

They did have to buy out FC Sachsen Leipzig’s youth teams to gain their licence, something which was endorsed by the Saxony FA in order to keep the young players in some form of academy. Markranstädt, now with their licence used, came back into being through their reserve side in 2010-11, which also saw their other teams restored.

A new club was needed to fill the gap for RB Leipzig’s own reserves, and that was taken up by ESV Delitzsch. They, in return, took up the spot of their own reserves to continue playing. Not complicated at all, eh? It took a lot for Leipzig to eventually meet all the necessary requirements, and it’s not hard to see why some fans felt annoyed that they had worked round the system.

The early years

Unsurprisingly, it was initially a struggle to have matches pass by peacefully. Pre-season preparations were disrupted and the opening game of the 2009-10 season was marred by protests. It was a small matter of what was to come in the seven years that would lead up to the current day dismay. However, on the pitch it was almost perfect. Leipzig ran riot in the Oberliga and finished 22 points clear of their nearest challengers, FSV Budissa Bautzen.

Things did not come so easily in the Regionalliga, however. Leipzig were stuck in the fourth tier for three years, in which the true fans were found, according to many. Now with Tomas Oral in charge after Tino Vogel departed following promotion, the club did manage to claim their second piece of silverware in the Saxony Cup.

Ingo Hertzsch grabbed the goal just before the hour mark, in a season where the club claimed fourth place in the league. Ultimately it was the cup runners-up and league winners, Chemnitzer FC that would be victorious.

Regionalliga difficulties

Oral left the club after that and was replaced by Peter Pacult, and the departure of sporting director, Thomas Linke followed in tandem. In fact, Linke left just an hour after Pacult was installed as head coach. The sporting director had been said to have wanted a coach who was well-versed in the lower leagues in order to bring the team the necessary experience to get promotion.

However, Linke may have been justified in his unhappiness at the decision. He had reportedly been in contact with Mateschitz and was sacked by former club, Rapid Wien for “a massive breach of trust”.

While there was that issue and later on in the season he was fined for brandishing someone as a faggot, Pacult’s tenure began in unbelievable fashion. A Daniel Frahn hat-trick helped Leipzig to a 3-2 win in the DFB-Pokal over VfL Wolfsburg and it was perhaps then that people stood up and took notice of the situation in the East across the footballing spectrum. A fourth tier side beating the Bundesliga champions from just a few years back was nothing short of sensation, even given their financial backing.

They still couldn’t crack the league and fell agonisingly short once again with a third place finish. Perhaps most interestingly, this was the first season a Red Bull Salzburg player made the move to Leipzig; a sign of things to come. No less than 29-time Austrian international, three-time Austrian Bundesliga champion, Roman Wallner was here.

Change of personnel, change in fortune

Then came the 2012-13 campaign and seemingly the point where Mateschitz wanted to pick up the pace in order to stay on target for his Bundesliga and European goals. The first major move saw Ralf Rangnick join the club as sporting director, combining his role with that which he held with Salzburg. Another new manager was installed as Alexander Zorniger would become the face of the club for nearly the next three years and two key players were put on the books.

Current club captain, Dominik Kaiser and cult hero stopper Fabio Coltorti were recruited. Both are now written in Leipzig history, and it is clear that even at this stage the club knew they needed to prepare for bigger things on the horizon. Zorniger and Rangnick led the club to Regionalliga glory and subsequent promotion at the 3. Liga with a play-off win against Sportfreunde Lotte. The Saxony Cup was claimed at the expense of Chemnitz once more. Leipzig were on a roll.

If 2012-13 was the key year in terms of personnel at board level, 2013-14 represented an important season for transfers. Some of the players that helped shape the side joined during the campaign for 2. Bundesliga promotion as Yussuf Poulsen, Joshua Kimmich, Anthony Jung and Diego Demme all came in. Federico Palacio-Martinez also joined the club, with the deals for the Spaniard, Kimmich and Poulsen totalling around £2m.

It was an almost unprecedented spend for a 3. Liga club and it showcased just what their scouting system was capable of finding. Unsurprisingly, the Red Bulls strolled to promotion along with 1. FC Heidenheim and SV Darmstadt 98. They became the first club to secure immediate promotion from 3. Liga since it was introduced. Zorniger had certainly got things back on track.

Back to back, on track, but legal problems ahead

Their first season in 2. Bundesliga was followed by more spending that other clubs simply could not compete with, even if they wanted to. First, however, followed more complications with licences. Yet crucially, once more, they were allowed to work around the rules so as to keep things within their closed circle of operations. However, the Legal Tribune suggested that the three requirements made by the DFL could have been challenged by RB Leipzig in a legal sense.

The three changes were in relation to the club badge being changed, as it was viewed as being too close to the Red Bull logo. The DFL also asked the club to alter the way the board was run and selected, given the exclusivity of those chosen. Finally, Leipzig was asked to lower the membership fees to become a club member. All of these areas were amended but only after compromise, which in the views of many fans were not stringent enough.

Mateschitz threatened to pull the plug on the project had the licence not been granted, suggesting it was a decapitation request. That can be viewed as the deciding factor. A club in the east with the financial clout to finally compete with those in the west would be lost if some form of favourable agreement was not reached. The DFL could not afford that and it may look like they were trying to preserve the old guard.

Either way, Leipzig came out on the right side of the deal. The fact that the majority of media outlets and football fans call them Red Bull and not RasenBallsport or RB, shows the power of the badge and the badge alone. Their closed circle is still intact, with the high membership fees still astronomical for any normal person and even then they still do not guarantee voting rights to approve or veto propositions from the club.

By contrast, Bayern Munich have over 250,000 members to decide on club matters. In essence, Leipzig have bypassed the 50+1 rule.

Zorniger goes, Rangnick completes the rise

On the field and in the transfer market, things were more serene. Leipzig would miss out on promotion to the promised land at the first time of asking, finishing fifth in a hugely entertaining 2014-15 2. Bundesliga season that saw Darmstadt and FC Ingolstadt 04 were promoted to the top flight.

During the season Zorniger was controversially sacked as head coach and Achim Beierlorzer was put in interim charge. The man who was not exceeding expectations but by no means doing poorly in one of the most competitive seasons to date had lost his job, despite securing back-to-back promotions.

The real success story of the season, however, came in the transfer market. The dealings between the sister clubs in Europe strengthened as four players from Salzburg were brought in. Yet it was the acquisition of Emil Forsberg, Lukas Klostermann, Omer Damari, Massimo Bruno and Marcel Sabitzer that saw the club spend money that – over the course of the entire season – would amount to half of the entire league’s spending on transfers.

While they have the money to do so, one must admire the approach that Leipzig do take, spending on younger, talented players that have the chance to grow with the club and become identification figures for the young fanbase in the process. No-one can begrudge how well run they are, that much is for certain.

The following season saw everything come together for the Bulls, as they secured promotion to the Bundesliga at the second time of asking. This time they were out in front for almost half the season, with VfL Bochum falling away after an early run at the top while SC Freiburg were able to finish strongest and claim top spot. Ralf Rangnick had successfully delivered just what Mateschitz had wanted, even if the pair had wanted Thomas Tuchel to be the man to do that.

The dream was now a reality, in the space of just seven years. For any other club it would be viewed as a miracle, but as they broke the 2. Bundesliga transfer record again to bring in Davie Selke, it felt manufactured. Stefan Ilsanker and Peter Gulacsi joined from RB Salzburg, with Antic Nukan, Marcel Halstenberg and Willi Orban helping to take their spending well over the £20m bracket for the season.

FIgures via transfermarkt
FIgures via transfermarkt

Salzburg far from happy in recent years

With Ralph Hasenhüttl announced as the new boss with Rangnick resuming his roll upstairs, everything was going swimmingly. While the club may have been hoping it attracted less attention than it did, tempers were beginning to boil in Salzburg. The loss of Benno Schmitz, Bernardo and Naby Keita proved to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. The club had missed out on the Champions League group stages yet again and Oscar Garcia was fuming with what was going on.

Some would suggest that this was always the case and that when the franchise secured a club in one of Europe’s major leagues, it was always going to happen. However, losing close to a dozen players in the space of three years led Garcia and the departing Martin Hinteregger to let loose with criticism.

The now FC Augsburg defender said he would not join Leipzig out of respect for Salzburg’s fans, having been with the club since they were created out of Austria Salzburg: "Everything is controlled in Leipzig, which I find very sad. Ralf Rangnick also still has the say in Salzburg.

He built something up here but now he's letting that all go down the drain." Like plenty of fans across both Austria and Germany, the 23-year-old feels the situation has now got out of hand, "Red Bull Salzburg chose the way of being a development team for Leipzig, I think that I need not be there any longer."

Oscar Garcia launched an even more scathing assessment, suggesting that there is now “Liefering A and Liefering B” as both are merely player farms for Leipzig. He said that the club have had to “change our goals” given that they are “now a training club”. Even sporting director Christopher Freund said that the team “do not have to be champions anymore”. For one club to have such influence over another is quite astounding.

While some may point to Chelsea’s involvement with Vitesse Arnhem and the difficulties that have arisen there, it has seen players go on loan – there has been no permanent transfers between the two clubs and, for now, it doesn’t look like that will change.

Fairytale, what fairytale?

This season has been nothing short of a fairytale… no, it has not been a fairytale and the media spinning a club who have a larger net spend than Bayern Munich over the past three years as minnows could not be further from the truth. It is the overwhelmingly positive media coverage that has, personally, been frustrating.

Any mention of 50+1, the backing they receive, the fact they’ve opened a huge loophole or any other argument to what has been done in Leipzig is turned away with “they’ve made the league more competitive”, or “they play great football and have a young team” or something that has been put forward to counter their finances. Very few actually tackle the fans' arguments.

Surely it is the job of the media to show both sides of the argument, but instead “traditionalists” are deemed as nothing more than those who want to see the East kept down, supressed and stay weak in German football terms. If not that, it’s a case of double standards. Why do these traditionalists just criticise Leipzig and not Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim and FC Ingolstadt 04? They don’t concern themselves with Carl-Zeiss Jena or other clubs on the spectrum who receive healthy sums of cash?

Once you battle through that and overcome the argument that Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund are just the same because they have large MNCs holding large shares and throwing money around. That's a fair point, but a club like Bayern have used their status to play benefit games to allow clubs to stay afloat. Would that have been the same case had investment been readily allowed in the Bundesliga?

Even when the fans’ issues are concerned, they are never really dealt with in a meaningful way as to show the frustration that Leipzig have brought with them. If anything, it feels like the German football fan who came for the passion, the grit and the determination is being replaced by those who are utterly obsessed with commercialisation.

The comments from Uli Hoeness on the 50+1 are not just concerning, but the final nail in the coffin. Bayern threatened to break away and set up a European Super League if the Champions League did not cater to their interests, now UEFA have pandered to Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and the other "super club" backers and guaranteed four Champions League group stage spots for the highest co-efficient members - Spain, England, Germany and Italy.

"I'm totally for the abolition of the 50+1 rule. Not because we would change anything, but that will finally stop this discussion," said Hoeness to Bild am Sonntag. That sends schivers down the spine of what way the future of German football could go. Whether it be the concession of control to Martin Kind and Dietmar Hopp due to their 20-year commitments, the change in kick-off time, Leipzig or now Bayern and Dortmund's global push, German football is changing.

While the attendance figures have been aided greatly by VfB Stuttgart and Hannover 96 being relegated and Dynamo Dresden coming up, 2. Bundesliga seems to be given a lot more credit than in previous years. Could the simple, honest and still high quality football be attracting people to a division not yet hit by the growing financial eagerness in German football?

It’s not all doom and gloom about Leipzig, quite the opposite. The way their club is run – whether it is to everyone’s taste or not – is done with such precision and ease it has to be respected. Everything seems to be seamless, be it change of manager, player or anything and everything in between – it just works.

Combine that with the attractive style of football that they play under Hasenhüttl, their own salary cap and the superb young squad they have assembled, and it’s not hard to see why they have attracted so many plaudits for their on field performances; deservedly so.

Topping the Bundesliga as a newly-promoted side is no mean feat, even if they have given that up to Bayern, yet they still have some way to go if they are to emulate 1. FC Kaiserslautern’s win after promotion in the 1997-98 season. By contrast, they had spent a minor fraction in order to secure what was one of the most unlikely title wins in recent times. Michael Ballack, Andreas Brehme, Olaf Marschall and Andreas Reinke were the biggest names in a squad that were the true definition of a fairytale story.

That SC Freiburg fan video

Now that the rules have been worked around, SC Freiburg fan Phil believes it is just a matter of time before more and more clubs of a similar ilk big to pop up: “There is already Hoffenheim, it is not exactly the same as Leipzig, but it was and is supported by Dietmar Hopp, the owner of SAP, a very big software company. Now they have their own youth academies but they would never be in a position like they are now without all the money from Hopp.”

Phil also feels like Freiburg could, at some point, be under threat from teams like Leipzig: “SC Freiburg are where they are because of the money earned from transfers. We need to sell good players and also young talents. But when it becomes too much we will get in trouble. To be honest I have no idea if Leipzig are building up a youth academy, but as far as I know, today, they are not very good at working with young people. If they buy our young talents too soon, we will have not have the chance to make them better and we will have no benefit. So, as you can see, there are two sides of the coin - but an extreme can destroy us.”

Phil’s concerns are very, very valid. Any team that does not have the financial clout that Leipzig possess are in danger of losing their best assets before they can mature and make the most amount of profit. Of course, this is no shock in modern football but the lack of Leipzig talent with RB is rather concerning. With the team already heading for the Champions League, only the very elite will make it through their youth system and into the senior squad.

Dynamo Dresden, who now have a sustainable base to build from, have already produced Marvin Stefaniak and Niklas Hauptmann in the time RB Leipzig have been around. The best youth academy in the east? That is up for debate, but their recruitment and scouting is second to none.

Part of Supporters Crew Freiburg e.V., Phil was part of the team that helped come up with the most creative responses to RB Leipzig. In a video made to mock an extreme of what football could become, the fan group made a name for themselves for the right reasons: “A few weeks before the match, we thought of what we wanted to do. And we decided to create a short video which shows what could happen in the future if nobody fights again a system like Red Bull.

"We decided to make it exaggerated and ironical. We got lots of great feedback. A lot of people watched this video, a lot of fan magazines wrote an article, a lot of newspapers (small and big, and also one from Switzerland) wrote an article and even different radio stations talked about this video. Everybody said that this is a very creative way to talk about this topic and they said that this is typical for the Freiburg fans.”

The view from Germany

Hans-Joachim Watzke said that traditional clubs would have to be wary of their place in the Bundesliga once Leipzig got promoted. Unfortunately for Stuttgart, they felt the full force of that as they went down as the Bulls made the leap to the top flight. Rosie Tudball, a keen follower of the Swabians, was far from pleased: “I think it's unfair, obviously. The praise they're getting. So teams that have built from history and tradition, no boost of multi million euro funding it's being disregarded almost. It makes me feel angry the fact VfB are in 2. Bundesliga, while RBL are walking the Bundesliga thanks to money. It's as if tradition is being overlooked and I think it's wrong, it's just unfair. It's not football.”

While this would lead to people saying that everyone and their dog is envious of the financial backing which Leipzig receive, there is a real sense among supporters that they haven’t had to endure the trials and tribulations that other clubs have gone through. The Red Bull Arena outfit’s ‘hardships’ came with three seasons in the Regionalliga. It is no surprise that some Lokomotive Leipzig fans have said that some in the city are only interested in top division football – which would make sense, given that almost half their history was spent in the fourth tier. The modern football fan wants instant success, something that is eroding the old fabric of the game that most of us love.

Peter Neururer has always been one of the most vocal opponents of RB Leipzig, along with the likes of Christian Streich. While the Bochum manager did admit “what they do, they do well” he did say that the club “makes me [him] sick”. Alex Zorniger did point out at the time that Neururer was once in charge of LR Ahlen, a club that was indeed similar to Leipzig given their financial backing by LR international. Neururer also commented, “RB Leipzig is a football construct that has not come from the traditional clubs in Saxony, Lokomotive or VfB. But you cannot punish RB Leipzig for not having a tradition."

Neururer was also particularly vocal against the banners displayed towards Rangnick and Willi Orban by Kaiserslautern fans, adding that if it was in any other profession the employee would be applauded for earning a wage rise. However, not everything was so serene from the former Bochum head coach. “This is a construct with purely economic interests in the background," he said.

Neururer also believes that Hoffenheim are different to Leipzig due to Hopp’s investment, and he was particularly displeased over the involvement of Lukas Klostermann’s agent in terms of his transfer to the Bulls. However, he had seemingly changed his tune this year as he blamed the statues and not RB Leipzig for what was happening. A stark change and contrast.

Mainz fans celebrate their qualification to the UEFA Europa League. | Image credit: Anjy Roemelt
Mainz fans celebrate their qualification to the UEFA Europa League. | Image credit: Anjy Roemelt

To sum up the discontent from a German perspective, I spoke to 1. FSV Mainz 05 fan, Anja Roemelt: “It's called a fairytale ever so often but if it is, Cinderella came with a lot of cash instead of ashes this time. RBL can spend in figures second only to Bayern Munich, and they did. They bought the Scottish international Oliver Burke from Nottingham Forest for over €10m. That's twice as much as the entire budget of SV Darmstadt 98, a team that much more deserves the term of a football fairytale.”

Being a fan of one of Germany’s most loved clubs, but one which Streich signalled out – along with Freiburg and FC Augsburg – as having done it the hard way, Anjy doesn’t understand how people can exempt Leipzig from criticism: “RBL has frequently been described as the target of an irrational or jealous hatred. They aren't. They fully deserve the criticism if not the hatred. It's not about a lack of tradition. It's about a lack of focus on the same things that created these traditions.

"Football was a people's thing. They went to games to boost their identity, find distraction from a tedious life, bond with others, give their lives a tinge of greatness it didn't get anywhere else after nation and religion were no longer available. Football fandom was made by fans not sold to them.”

She continued, “It's a bitter irony that all these things people created through effort, time and money of their own are now sold to them by Red Bull. Of all the things fans did to express their love for a club there's just one left: spending money. “

Anjy is now afraid that the change at the top will see a change in the fan culture, something that has made Germany a footballing haven for those disillusioned elsewhere: “RBL not only has sporting goals, they are part of a change in society. A change conducted by the economy. The family-friendly image that RBL - and other clubs - want to establish as opposed to an allegedly aggressive "fan-atmosphere" on first glance is a pretty thing. Everybody's happy there, the bad things are gone away. Red Bull saved the world today. No more evil pyro, aggressive fans, emotions out of control. Happy customers replace them who just want to have a good time with a can of Red Bull.“

Tensions had risen between Mainz and the clubs ultras, but have no cooled again. | Image credit: Anjy Roemelt
Tensions had risen between Mainz and the clubs ultras, but have no cooled again. | Image credit: Anjy Roemelt

Though, Anjy believes it is merely a part of human culture. If the aggressiveness disappears, what is next? “The problem is that aggressiveness is a part of human nature. Sports always were a way to channel it in a way tolerable for society. If it is prohibited or is supressed, like water it finds its way through different leaks, like hate speech. This is clearly visible in the efforts backed by leading German media to demonise RBL critics or by the DFB fining, for example Dynamo out of proportion for an anti-RBL action.”

Anjy also feels that this is the first movement towards the end of the sacred 50+1 rule: “On the economical level RBL is the first step to abolish the 50+1 rule that German football clubs may not belong with a majority to a business firm. Or maybe they are the third or fourth step. With Austria sporting a "tipico Bundesliga" and the Premier League as role model, the train has left the station.”

Martina Müller, an 1860 Munich fan who is far from happy with the state of play at her current club, also commented on the situation: “Leipzig are everything that is wrong with professional sports. Their ascension to the Bundesliga was artificial and at the expense of German football identity. Even the name "RasenBallsport" is a circumvention of the commercial rules. Membership prices have turned a team in a collective and fan-driven league into a mockery. They plundered teams in their rise, with Timo Werner being stolen from VfB Stuttgart as the crown jewel.

"While I will applaud their self-governed salary cap, I will show little to no respect for them on any other front. To be able to steal the moniker of the most hated club in Germany from TSG Hoffenheim, a symbol of modern football where teams grow on money and not merit, is some accomplishment.”

It’s fair to say, there is plenty of opposition to what RB Leipzig have done, what they are and what they stand for.

Why Leverkusen, Wolfsburg, Ingolstadt and even Hoffenheim are different

People have drawn comparisons to Bayer Leverkusen, VfL Wolfsburg, FC Ingolstadt 04 and TSG 1899 Hoffenheim for being backed by companies or a major investor. While it holds up on paper, both Leverkusen and Wolfsburg were founded by factory workers – not Bayer or Volkswagen, respectively. Such has been the stable success and growth of B04, not least because of their success in breaking into America, they could more than likely cope without the influence of the chemical giant.

Given the initial fears that surrounded VW’s involvement being cut with the emissions scandal, the Lower Saxony side would be less likely to be as successful without the automotive giant’s backing – much like any club with a sponsor so intrinsically involved like Volkswagen are in Wolfsburg. However, the recent acquisition of Riechedly Bazoer shows that there is willing cooperation between both parties to further their sporting aims, even if uncertainty remains.

As for Ingolstadt, a club that made their Bundesliga bow a year before Leipzig, have been backed by Audi. Alex Howell, the club’s first member from the UK, suggests the two clubs are similar to the untrained eye: “I think on the surface there are definitely similarities between the two clubs. Both were founded quite recently, in Leipzig's case 2009 and Schanzer's 2004. Both have corporate backers (on the surface) and both have relatively small fanbases and tradition.”

He added, “That said, when you begin to delve deeper you see the difference between Leipzig and Ingolstadt - and a whole host of other clubs like Wolfsburg and Leverkusen.”

Alex is an historic FCI fan. | Image credit: Alex Howell
Alex is an historic FCI fan. | Image credit: Alex Howell

Alex explained how the Ingolstadt of now came to be, “On the first point - founding dates - Leipzig bought out a lower division club, SSV Markranstädt, and simply formed a new club. In the case of Schanzer, it was simply the amalgamation of the two Ingolstadt football clubs; ESV and MTV. This was a logical decision due to the small population, relatively speaking, of the Bavarian city, whilst the financial problems of ESV made this even more a logical decision. MTV and ESV Ingolstadt had both played in the 2. Bundesliga on occasions.”

Despite many linking Ingolstadt and Audi in the same fashion as Leipzig and Red Bull, Alex insists that this is not the case: “Secondly, and perhaps the most interesting, the financial backers. Since their inception, Leipzig have been heavily backed by - you guessed it - Red Bull. I'm sure on figures, but we are all aware that it has been huge. For Ingolstadt, the town's huge TNC Audi had nothing to do with the team until 2013, when the club were established in the second tier.”

He continued, “Even then, Audi still didn’t invest much. The entire budget in the promotion season of 2014/15 was 4.5 million euros. Leipzig have spent more this summer on Timo Werner. Even the infamous Audi Sportpark - Audi only have the naming rights, it was Schanzer owner Peter Jackwerth who stumped up the money to build it when it was apparent the old ESV Stadion would no longer suffice. Jackwerth's money comes from his own temporary work business, not an Austrian energy drink giant.”

When it comes to the fans, Alex doesn’t want to pull any punches: “In terms of fanbase, evidently Ingolstadt aren't blessed with huge numbers. Not that I see how that really is that much of a negative - yes it's negligible, but I don't really see how it works to FCI's detriment. The difference in this sense between Ingolstadt and Leipzig in this sense, is that the Schanzer fans are fans of Ingolstadt - not a marketing product, unlike some. But that's not for me to criticise. Even then. Ingolstadt have the same 50+1 system as any other typical German club. There are over a thousand members, of which I myself am one. Leipzig have a poultry figure of something under 20.”

Alex has garnered a good reputation for his following of the Schanzer. | Image credit: Alex Howell
Alex has garnered a good reputation for his following of the Schanzer. | Image credit: Alex Howell

Alex also mentioned how some favourable division changes in the past few years helped Ingolstadt get to where they are now: “So overall, essentially the difference between FC Ingolstadt 04 and RB Leipzig is that Schanzer are effectively a small town team, who have benefitted from a dedicated owner and fortunate circumstances. Let's not forget, perhaps the biggest rise in Ingolstadt's rise has been the restructuring of the German football pyramid.”

Alex summed up by saying, “On the surface, due to their relatively small tradition (for the current club) it is easy to draw comparisons between Ingolstadt and the Saxon side. Yet, when you delve much deeper you see that intact they are two separate entities. Leipzig present a huge social, economic and moral question to German football - and it's not one that FC Ingolstadt have really any relevance to.”

As for Hoffenheim, they unveiled banners at their opening home game this season – against Leipzig – with several messages. These included statements like “only Sandhausen still hates us like before”, “we want our throne back” and “greetings to the four Sky viewers”. A new El Cashico, El Plastico, der Cashiker – Germany’s two most hated clubs were doing battle in the top tier.

Even Hoffenheim differ from Leipzig in the sense that Dietmar Hopp played for Hoffenheim during his youth and had followed the club since the early 90s. Such is Hopp’s backing that, along with Hannover’s Martin Kind, both have been granted special circumstances to “take control” of their clubs due to a commitment of over 20 years. Some will suggest that Hopp’s SAP and his backing of Hoffenheim is the most similar to Leipzig, although the billionaire has not changed the team name, club colours or essentially brought the building down to the foundations and began construction again. Yet, even then it is impossible to deny that the similarities between the two are there for all to see.

Had Mateschitz wanted to have a solid defence in his corner, why not leave it to be SSV Markranstädt and work Red Bull into other areas? Hoffenheim now boast one of the country’s most productive youth academies, with Nadiem Amiri, Philipp Ochs, Kevin Akpoguma, Nico Rieble, Michael Gregoritsch, Marco Terrazzino, Janik Haberer, Niklas Süle, Benedikt Gimber, Jeremy Toljan et al making up a very impressive recent list.

Will Leipzig be able to continue to add to the the embarrassment of riches that arises from German youth academies? Only time will tell, but their facilities would suggest yes.

The East is rising again, not because of Leipzig

This has always been a strange one, as the rise of Leipzig has somehow been brought into the recent good fortune of 1. FC Magdeburg, Dynamo Dresden, 1. FC Union Berlin and co. East German football has been on the up ever since the leagues were restructured again in 2008 and that has shown in 3. Liga especially, with six of the 20 teams hailing from the old East. Dynamo, Union and Erzgebirge Aue all sit in the second tier, with the latter two teams planning and in the process of renovating and building stadiums respectively.

The fact that Union are thinking of expanding their ground – not just renovating to meet certain requirements – shows that the ambition is there to make the step and join the German football elite even after their huge financial hardships of the past. Dynamo will now receive the TV money from next season after the paid off their debt, as well as to Michael Kölmel, to become financially free once more.

Dynamo and more so Union both look like viable promotion contenders and both will be in the hunt for a top three finish come May next year. Both clubs boast exciting 4-3-3 formations and love to get forward, but still can count on players like Toni Leistner and Florian Ballas to mop up at the back. Akaki Gogia has been a candidate for player of the Hinrunde while Damir Kreilach, Steven Skrzybski and Collin Quaner help make Union deadly going forward.

There have been shoots of recovery in East German football for a while and to suggest that the investment of Red Bull has had anything to do with it seems strange. The three clubs mentioned initially deserve huge credit for being able to turnaround what were near-fatal financial problems – no thanks whatsoever to their new neighbours in Leipzig.

For Leipzig fans who believe they have gone through hardships to get to where they are no, compares in no way whatsoever to the Union fans helping build their own ground. People still talk about the heavy right wing element to Dynamo's fanship, but that has certainly died down markedly over the last few years thanks to club initiatives.

Not only that, Dynamo have came out of the financial woe and are now building a new training ground - we hear about Leipzig buying their stadium, but not a club who have fought over the last two decades just to stay afloat and are now doing well.

What do the RB fans think of it all?

Between emailing the market beside the training ground, the fan groups or people connected with the club, it was perhaps no surprise that a response was hard to come by given the media coverage that I recieve. However, Megan was kind enough to chat about RB and how the club helped her feel at home since day one. Yet the beginning of the journey was anything by conventional, "It really started with me following VfB Stuttgart for Rani Khedira, then he transferred. I watched the games (yes, getting up at 6:30 or earlier), but I was pretty casual about it until April 2015 when I hopped on a bus in Bonn, and eight hours later I was at a training."

Much like other fans, it was a case of the club immediately having that infectious feeling: "It’s funny because I was pretty neutral for the Bundesliga. I just loved the league, and supported teams with players from the German National team on them. I went to a BVB-Bayern game in Dortmund, and I didn't end up swayed either way. Five minutes at Cottaweg, though, and I was hooked."

She continued, "Everybody regulates what makes a good fan or how you chose your club, and it is okay when other people say the club chose them. When I say that, I’m going to get scoffs or worse. They did, though. Standing next to the training field with other fans, my insufficient German didn't matter. I was having fun just watching football. Khedira was back from injury, the fans were all having fun and seemed to know each other. It felt more inclusive than the frankly cold feeling I got in Dortmund."

Just like anyone else, it was in the moment that a single image sticks out as to where it materialised: "I was alone, but I felt included. Maybe part of it was me missing my own 8 year old cousin, but watching the little kids smile and enjoy practice made me genuinely smile for the first time in awhile. I was dealing with a lot of personal issues, but it all melted away on the side of the field. I have a picture of the team in a circle, with the stadium, across the river, in the background, and I am pretty sure that is the exact moment, when I looked over at a little kid in a Poulsen jersey, that I knew it was my team."

Discuss 50+1, but don't let it get out of hand

Even when some tend to avoid the 50+1 'saga' with Leipzig, Megan is happy to acknowledge that - but it is the fan violence that proves of concern: "Of course much of the press has a right to discuss the 50+1 issue. There is plenty to talk about there. My issue is that they fail to cover the length that many so-called fans are going to over it, and to me, that makes these press outlets complicit in the violence. At this point, it has been things like slashed tires and chants about trains to death camps or signs about how killing bulls isn’t a crime or pouring oil onto banners in the away blocks."

In Ingolstadt, Megan had a particularly poor experience: "I was personally in the away block when Ingolstadt fans had covered the bannisters in some kind of sticky stuff, and the workers at the stadium helped us clean it before the match (back in May 2015). After the match, when they were promoted, Ingolstadt fans rushed the field. Players could have seriously been hurt considering the vitriol and how quickly it all happened."

Citing the now infamous incident in Dresden, Megan is concerned with fan safety: "With the bull’s head in Dresden, it is a similar thing. Everyone is talking about the symbolism, and so many outlets love the sensationalism (especially with Dynamo winning). Imagine if something had been hidden in the head. Their own fans, or players, or Leipzig fans or players, could have been injured or killed because the press - and many fan groups - continue to push hostility toward Leipzig. I do understand that people are upset about what they see as the 'death of tradition'.”

Megan feels the line needs to be drawn as to just how far the protests can go before someone ends up seriously injured, "But I think we also need to accept that there are bigger issues at play, and we are all human beings who deserve to live, and I am personally holding the people and outlets responsible when someone gets hurt. If you have a voice, you have a responsibility to speak out against what is happening, not push it under the rug because it makes German football look bad."

"Each of those clubs has their own background"

She explained, "First, I think each of those clubs has their own background. Of course with Die Werkself, you have a specific cultural institution. And in a sense, Wolfsburg is similar. They have this history of growing up as part of the company, whereas Red Bull came in as a separate investor, completely unrelated."

Megan believes that Wolfsburg is a special situation, "I think it is also important to note things like the city of Wolfsburg was only created to house workers of VfW. There would be no city for the team without the company. Of course, there is also the history of forced labor by the company, too. There are a lot of historical peculiarities going on in these cities that are important to note. Nothing is happening in a vacuum here."

In terms of Ingolstadt and Hoffenheim, Megan said: "As for Ingolstadt, yes, Audi is based there. Obviously there is at least a connection for them. I just personally worry about funding multiple teams in the same league. Yes, potentially Leipzig and Salzburg could one day play each other in Europe, but that seems a bit farther off and not a season to season occurrence. With Hoffenheim, I think Hopp has more influence on sporting decisions than Mateschitz."

Megan believes the problem is largely down to location and the money that has been available to the West compared to the East down the years: "I think the biggest difference is the location. Wolfsburg, Leverkusen, Ingolstadt, and Hoffenheim are all in former West Germany, meaning that after World War II they benefitted from the Marshall Plan. Specifically, Bayer, Volkswagen, and Audi were all in a country where they could continue to develop and expand internationally more easily."

She continued, "Dietmar Hopp founded SAP AG in 1972. He didn’t start supporting TSG until after reunification, but needless to say, his wealth accumulation would have been unlikely in the DDR. The question of why East German clubs are failing in the Bundesliga is complex, as Uli Hesse explains, but part of it at the moment is that they don’t have the money to compete."

"They saw a chance a chance, and they took it"

Megan also feels that Leipzig have taken the chance to be that side that the East look to in a bid to get back on a level playing field: "That is an entirely different paper, of course, but Red Bull picked a team in the eastern part of Germany because they are underrepresented. They saw a chance a chance, and they took it. They saw the city that the DFB was founded in, they bought a club nearby, and moved up the divisions. They followed the rules the DFB gave them. If there is wrongdoing, the DFB can charge them for it. Obviously it isn’t in the spirit, but I don’t think the “spirit” of the Bundesliga is leaving out half the country because they don’t have investors either."

In relation to the argument some are using to suggest that people from outside Germany find it hard to grasp the fan perspective, Megan disagrees: "I think that it is slightly unfair to assume all English-speaking fans are coming from a Premier League background. I’m personally coming from a Bundesliga background and could tell you the history of the club structure in Germany or show you my German essay about Friedrich Ludwig Jahn and the Turnvereinen."

Megan continued, "People know more than you think, it’s just been easier to characterize them as dumb consumerists who are okay with destruction of the traditional German football (or basically ice hockey fans from the country with our hair dyed red or blonde, as 11Freunde called the fans in the stadium). Some English-speaking fans might not know it, but I doubt all German-speaking fans can detail the whole history as well. Everyone has their own depths of knowledge."

As for what the major draw, and what still is her favourite part, Megan credits the fans: "For me, the best part about RBL is the fans. Obviously, a football obsessed girl is going to end up in a lot of football-related places when she is in Germany. The other RBL fans always made me feel at home. Maybe it is an us-against-the-world kind of thing. I spent the most time outside Bonn in Leipzig, so I woud hope that I could give it a fair assessment. I loved that the community was willing to accept outsiders at a time that I really need it. I have found the fans to be incredibly helpful, in Leipzig and. If I haven’t mentioned it before, my German wasn’t always the best when I was there.

Happy, helpful and pleasant

In terms of what the fans helping fans, Megan has a tale to tell: "Perhaps one of my most iconic German fails happened in an email to RBL ticketing email, where I tried to apologize for my bad German and only typed “I would like to for my bad German” and forgot to add “apologize” at the end. I had a lovely Leipzig fan help me find the will call office in Ingolstadt and then get my ticket, because somehow I got so flustered that I couldn’t formulate “they sent my ticket ahead” (and forgot to mention my name). And it sounds like I’m just happy they were willing to translate for me, but honestly, it was just them also being pleasant to be around as well."

Despite various games and fan groups, Megan couldn't shake that Leipzig feeling: "I was in Germany for five months, and I went to: BVB-Bayern, Ingolstadt-RBL, Germany-USA, Das Spiel des Jahres (Sami Khedira’s Charity game), and RBL-HAPOEL Tel Aviv (pre-season friendly). I was in Berlin for the week leading up to the UCL final. Still, I never found fans that made me question my love of RBL fans, and they get some of the most criticism out of any group. Yet they aren’t widely known as a club with a history of facism or homophobia or sexism."

Something which many media outlets have failed to pick up on is that the fans' bid to bring in refugee banners: "In fact, the fan groups have been pushing back against the club for refusing to allow them to display “Refugee Welcome” banners (and the club has had many initiatives with refugees, the fans just wanted banners in the stadium). It isn’t that they are the only fan groups to do it, but they are never going to be lauded for it, and that’s fine. They don’t need to be. They can do their job, support their team, and continue to do charity work as well (which they have been doing quite a bit of from what I’ve followed). And they can keep pulling in new fans because they realiSe the team is damn good."

When asked about Leipzig's chances of keeping their remarkable form going, Megan is hopeful they can buck the trend: "Of course I hope that they will, but there is a history of drop off in the Rückrunde. Overall, I think the changes made in the team have improved it and given them a chance at holding the form. I was calling for #ChampionsLeague2017 since last year, so I guess they are taking me up on it. I may have made a bet with a friend if it happens, though, so there may be some pictures on social media if they end up somehow winning the whole thing."

Where do you stand?

So, where to come down on the Red Bull issue? If off the field matters are of little concern and watching a team that many could only assemble on Football Manager, with the facilities to produce the oh-so sought after regens that dreams are made of – then Leipzig are the team for you.

From a neutral stand-point, it is possible to appreciate what the club are doing and still be critical of how they are run and the loopholes that have now been opened up as a result. Then there are the fans of clubs who simply can’t bear the thought of Leipzig, what they stand for and how they’ve bought their way to the top.

No-one can tell you what to think of the Bulls, least not me, but it’s a situation that could escalate the commercialisation that has been coming through in German football.

To that, most football fans would have a decidedly negative opinion.


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