The Berlin Wall has long since been torn down, friends and family reunited. Germany is a country unified and has been for some time now. While the west and east of this land are connected now and equal, the east is still lagging behind in at least one important cultural aspect … football. While reunification has brought plenty of economic development, tons of new construction and improving infrastructure to eastern Germany, most of the football money is still being funneled to the western areas. Though football equality was not part of the 1990 treaty, a blossoming club in Leipzig could be the potential jewel of East German football and just the model that other nearby cities could follow to achieve football prominence.
Leipzig itself is known for being an area that has produced some great music. Bach worked in Leipzig for over 25 years, to name one prominent figure. However, the area also has an interesting soccer history. For starters, the German Football Association was founded here in 1900. The city also boasts the distinction of supporting the country’s first domestic champion in 1903, under the guise of VfB Leipzig. The club is actually still around, now called 1. FC Lokomotive Leipzig.
Despite a rich history in the sport, Leipzig, like virtually all of the eastern portion of Germany, is behind the curve. There are no current East German teams competing in Bundesliga 1. In fact, there are only 9 eastern clubs distributed throughout the top three tiers. Hertha BSC potentially the most recognizable to foreigners. Not a big surprise considering these clubs were being run via a completely different monetary mechanism just over 20 years ago. The way clubs did business practically changed overnight, as the switch from Communism to Capitalism was made. One encouraging sign is that 8 of Germany’s 30+ elite sports schools now fall under the umbrella of the east.
Enter Red Bull … a soccer super – power in the making. The energy drink company has 4 soccer teams sprawled over 3 continents and has already ventured into a 4th continent soccer-wise. There is a Red Bull soccer academy in Ghana. While Red Bull is greatly influential and owns a generous portion of the club RB Leipzig, it doesn’t have quite as much control over this new franchise, compared with their other projects. The German Football Association has restrictions that state a club must own at least 51% of it’s shares. This leaves only 49% for Red Bull. In addition, the Leipzig club cannot have “Red Bull” in their name, hence the name “RB Leipzig” (RasenBall [Lawn Ball] Sport Leipzig). Despite these nuances, Red Bull is strongly associated with the club and their logo is on the club apparel.
The club now has aims to reach the top level of German football within 10 years, via the support of Red Bull. To some this may seem a lofty goal. Last season, the club finished at the top of their division in the 5th tier, achieving promotion to the 4th level. However, while still playing at an improved level, the slope of improvement this year, isn’t quite as steep. The club sits in 4th and is well out of the top spot. Despite the influx of revenue from the energy drink superpower, RB Leipzig is falling in line with the rest of the region. That is, their roster features a strong amount of local talent. This not only helps to alleviate salary concerns, but also helps to develop local support. The club plays at Red Bull Arena, a site which hosted group matches at the 2006 World Cup.
During a recent trip to the city of Leipzig, I attended a league match and had an opportunity to speak with Dr. Dieter Gudel, the club’s General Manager. Here is our conversation about RB Leipzig and East German football in general.