(by Juan José Chamorro)
Labeling RB Leipzig’s 2016-17 campaign as historic would be an understatement. Against all odds, the up-and-coming side from East Germany contended head-to-head with the likes of Borussia Dortmund, Bayer Leverkusen and Bayern Munich, with a considerably smaller budget and a null experience in the top tier of Bavarian football. Eight years ago, it seemed improbable that Die Bullen could go from Germany’s NOFV–Oberliga Süd to the ever-difficult Bundesliga, let alone qualify for the Champions League within one season of promotion. Nevertheless, not all has been easy for the meteoric ascent of RB Leipzig, given the famously conservative football structure that exists in Germany.
When the energy drink giant Red Bull, led by its co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, started a process to acquire a German football team, they faced more difficulties than those they faced when they participated in similar processes in New York and Salzburg. The Austrian company, famous for a number of sports-driven investments, started to pitch options in Germany, mainly in the west of the country. Teams like Saint-Pauli, in Hamburg, 1860 Munchen, in Munich, and Fortuna Düsseldorf, in Düsseldorf, declined the option of selling their rights to the multinational, mainly due to pressures from their respective fans.
As opposed to other football federations in Europe, Germany is known for the 50+1 regel, which forces teams to sustain a majority of their voting rights in order to obtain a license to play in the Bundesliga. Given these restrictions, which were put in place precisely to control the capital-injections coming from external investors, the Red Bull investors decided to look elsewhere, eventually settling for the rights of a team in Eastern Germany, SSV Markranstädt. In spite of the widespread criticism from German football teams and, especially, fanatics across Germany, RB Leipzig showed great success by being promoted from Germany’s fifth division to the Bundesliga, only 7 years after being founded.
Here are some of RB Leipzig’s keys to securing top-flight football in Germany and Europe.
With a few exceptions, all the players in the team come from academies throughout Europe. The modus operandi of the team has been quite consistent in the last few years; young players are acquired from these academies, for a relatively low sum, and they are developed in Leipzig. Yussuf Poulsen, for instance, was bought for 1.3 million Euros from the Danish side Lyngby BK in 2013; per Transfermarkt.com, the Danish player has quadrupled his market price, as he is now worth 6 million Euros. Timo Werner, one of RB Leipzig’s crown jewels, was acquired for a relatively high sum for a recently-promoted team; RB Leipzig bought Werner for 10 million Euros from Stuttgart, back in 2016, however, his fee has already been amortized, as he now has a market value of 16 million Euros. Last season he scored 21 goals and 7 assists, directly participating in a goal every 88 minutes.
At age 21, he has already won the Confederations Cup with Germany, clinching the Golden Boot award in the process, and has been linked to a transfer to English giant Liverpool FC. Naby Keita and Emil Forsberg, acquired from RB Salzburg and Malmo FF respectively, were instrumental for RB Leipzig’s success during the 2016-17 campaign; the former was talismanic throughout the season, providing balance to the team’s midfield, while the latter directly participated in 30 of his team’s goals. Teams like Liverpool, Arsenal, and Milan, have already reportedly inquired about a potential transfer for the next season.
As opposed to other European teams with similar market behaviors, such as Ajax, Porto or Sevilla, RB Leipzig has focused on a specific type of player; many of the players they have recently acquired, hail from continental Europe, thus making the player’s adaption much more seamless.
RB Leipzig plays their home games in the Red Bull arena, a first-level stadium with capacity for 43,000 spectators. The company excels in branding both its team and its arena. RB Leipzig’s jersey proudly brandishes Red Bull’s iconic logo. The stadium similarly serves as an advertising asset for Red Bull overall; this is seen reflected in the fact that the team was able to sell 20,000 tickets before the 2016-2017 season started, their very first season in the Bundesliga, as reported by the New York Times.
Despite RB Leipzig’s undeniable growth and outstanding performance, it has struggled to cope with the stringent system the Bundesliga possesses. The team had to go through a rather strict evaluation by the German federation, to confirm their solvency as a team and company, in order to be able to compete in 2017-18’s Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League. Similarly to other leagues in Europe, the Bundesliga has been quite rigid with their Financial Fair Play rules, as they want to avoid situations like those faced by illustrious names in Europe, such as Lazio, Parma, Borussia Dortmund and Atletico de Madrid. RB Leipzig was recently granted the credentials required to compete in the Bundesliga next season, however, their board needs to be extremely careful as they will face the scrutiny, not only from the fans and German teams, but also the German federation and UEFA. Only time will show how sustainable the team’s structure is – in the meantime, the city of Leipzig hopes their team keeps excelling in Germany and, ideally, in the world’s biggest clubs competition, the UEFA Champions League.