In the years to follow, football fans, especially German football addicts, across the globe would reminisce the year 2016 with fond memories of some of the most unwonted fairy-tales and preposterous surprises. Leicester City’s maiden Premier League win against the odds of 5000/1 and Portugal’s European Championship win were the two highlights of the footballing calendar. However, that was not it. Another footballing anecdote is still being scripted as the year draws to a close – This time in the home of the world champions.
A story which commenced only in 2009, but has already taken shape to be commemorated as an impelling footballing story.
A Thai-Austrian energy-drink company, Red Bull GmbH had already made their presence felt in the sphere of global sports by making significant investments in football, motorsports, ice-hockey across different continents. It was in 2006 when Red Bull GmbH decided to invest in German football on consultation with German football luminary Franz Beckenbauer.
However, Red Bull’s intention of securing over fifty percent shares and renaming clubs did not go down well amongst clubs of considerable repute which include FC St. Pauli, TSV 1860 Munich, Fortuna Düsseldorf. On the other hand, investing in the highest level of German football would have proven to be an expensive affair and could have also invited legal predicaments and hence Red Bull GmbH were found vacillating.
In the end, the Austria-based company set their sights on buying the playing rights of a fifth division club and in the process, they ratified a deal with SSV Markranstädt – a modest club based in a village, thirteen kilometres west of Leipzig. – for a fee estimated to be around 350,000 Euros.
At long last RB Leipzig was founded on the 19th of May 2009.
However, unlike other ventures of Red Bull GmbH, the corporate name ‘Red Bull’ could not be put to use in naming the club as per the guidelines of DFB and in lieu, the club adopted the name RasenballSport, literally meaning ‘Lawn Ball Sport’ and thereby retaining the corporate initials ‘RB’.
What followed for RB Leipzig was numerous successful on-field campaigns during which the club won promotions to higher divisions. As the club was evincing signs of improvement, the board kept infusing more funds and manifested greater ambitions from time to time by carrying out massive revamp. The club had started out at a 5000-seater Stadion am Bad in Markranstädt, but as the club grew leaps and bounds, it shifted to Zeltralstadion – one of the hosts of the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which now goes by the name Red Bull Arena.
In its inaugural season 2009-10, RB Leipzig won the fifth division(Oberliga) and was promoted to the Regionalliga Nord. It took RB Leipzig three attempts to secure their next promotion and finally in 2012-13, the club got promoted to the third division, having attained invincibility throughout the course of the season. Success followed RB Leipzig in the following season, as the club managed to advance to the second division, having finished runners-up to FC Heidenheim.
It was the first time since the introduction of the third division, any club managed to earn a promotion to the second division of German football in its very first endeavour.
The following season, RB Leipzig finished fifth, before qualifying to the Bundesliga in 2016. But this was not it. Though the odds were stacked up against the newly promoted team, as it always is, thirteen matches in, RB Leipzig find themselves on the pinnacle of the Bundesliga table, ahead of German champions and European heavyweights, Bayern Munich. They have been undefeated so far.
Bayern Munich who have won the last four Bundesliga titles in an almost monopolistic competition in the German domestic structure find themselves against a stiff competitor in RB Leipzig. The roots of RB Leipzig might not run as deep as other German heavyweights who’ve been around for decades and centuries, but that hasn’t held them back from filling the stands on a regular basis, as the Red Bull Arena has averaged an attendance of over 41,000 this season.
RB Leipzig’s performance in the domestic sector, over the past few months has also raised eyebrows of some of the most prominent clubs across Europe. Their newly hired manager Ralph Hasenhuttl has been strongly rumoured to be considered as one of the many names to replace Arsene Wenger at Arsenal – which also goes to testify the proficiency of those at the helm.
For more than a decade, Red Bull has made a strong statement in the world of sports. Not only have they made purposeful investments, but they also possess a glorious history of attaining glory on the football field, racetracks and ice-hockey rings. But whether RB Leipzig can compete with Bayern Munich’s financial muscle is a question only time will answer.
The rise to prominence in the European footballing radar, after massive investments, isn’t new to European football followers, as clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain have all began their spell of dominance with funding from billionaires across the globe. However, Leipzig must be credited on this front, as the club has managed to climb to the top of German football without any major financial influx this season.
Now, whether they follow Leicester City’s footsteps and pen yet another mesmerizing fairy-tale or they fall off the perch, indicating yet another flash in the pan, remains to be seen.
As it goes without saying, clubs like RB Leipzig have brought neutrals to the edge of their seats with their footballing display and unmitigated zeal to reach the zenith.