As I watched my hometown club RB Leipzig triumphantly beat FC Saarbrücken in the Red Bull Arena on the last day of the season in 2014 and thus ensure their promotion to the 2. Bundesliga, I had no idea that they would become the success story that they are now. Winning four promotions in seven seasons has catapulted them to the top of the Bundesliga where they are now three points clear of Bayern Munich.
RB Leipzig’s unstoppable climb to top spot has also seen them break the record of being the first newly-promoted German side to remain unbeaten in the first 11 matches of the season. This is unsurprising considering their playing style is characterised by extreme pressing and rapid transitional play. The last club to have had the same points as RB Leipzig at this point in the campaign were FC Kaiserslautern and they went on the win the league.
What makes RB Leipzig’s success even more astonishing is that they were only founded in 2009 by Red Bull after originally being a fifth-tier team known as SSV Markranstädt, with Red Bull then proceeding to rebrand the team’s entire image by also changing their crest and kit.
However, this is also the main cause of the controversy surrounding RB Leipzig, who have fast earned the reputation of being the most hated club in Germany. Despite not be called Red Bull Leipzig due to DFB sponsorship rules (they claim the RB stands for “RasenBallsport” which means lawn sport to get around the regulations), they are part of a succession of equally artificial clubs such as FC Red Bull Salzburg and New York Red Bulls and are simply a marketing scheme for the energy drink.
RB Leipzig has also decided to evade the ruling that practically all clubs in Germany must adhere to the 50+1 rule, which enables its members to have some share of power, by increasing the price of membership to 800 Euros, which is ten times what you would pay to become a member at Bayern Munich, and even then, you are only a non-voting member. Therefore, as it stands, RB Leipzig only have 17 proper members, with the majority being either employees or associates of Red Bull. This highlights that RB Leipzig are destroying everything that makes German football so admired – namely tradition, a sense of identity and significantly, allowing their fans to declare how they want the club to be run.
destroying everything that makes German football so admired
This has led to recurring protests against the club such as Borussia Dortmund fans opting to support their club’s under-23s in a fourth division match rather than going to their side’s first away match at the Red Bull Arena at the start of the season. Similarly, before a recent away match at Bayer Leverkusen, home fans threw paint at the Leipzig team bus and Dynamo Dresden were fined 54,000 Euros due to fans throwing a blood-soaked bull’s head onto the field during a DFB Pokal match in August.
However, one must look at why RB Leipzig have flourished so exceptionally this season, having now won six successive games, with no team having a better run of form in this Bundesliga season so far. This is most notably due to their remarkable youth system, which focuses on nurturing young players and giving them valuable game time. It is no surprise that Leipzig’s starting eleven have an average age of just over 24 years.
Since the reunification of Germany in 1990, there have been no prominent East German teams in the Bundesliga, or almost no teams at all, with only RB Leipzig representing the East in the 2016/2017 Bundesliga campaign and being the only East German team to do so since Energie Cottbus were relegated in 2009.Thus, no East German team has won anything of significance such as the Bundesliga or DFB Pokal for 26 years, and perhaps this year it is time for a change.
The fact that Bayern Munich have been crowned Bundesliga champions for 4 years in a row now and particularly by considerable margins such as 19 points in the 2013/2014 season, means that a change at the top of the table would ensure that the Bundesliga would no longer always be deemed as a “one horse race”.
RB Leipzig could by all accounts replicate the success of similar underdogs Leicester last season and emerge victorious, and I believe that through this, German football would take a big step in the direction of having a more entertaining and unpredictable league. However, with Bayern Munich having won the league 26 times in their history, this Bundesliga campaign is far from over and RB Leipzig must focus on winning their away match in Munich on the 21st December in order to hold on to the top spot till May.