Leipzig have overtaken Dortmund as Bayern’s talent provider

Editor’s note: ESPN’s chief Bundesliga commentator, Derek Rae, is in Leipzig this week for Friday’s return from Germany’s top flight and examines the possibility that the club most die-hard fans have little time for could nevertheless represent the closest pursuers of Bayern for the long term.

January in East Germany can be a grim time with bleak, cold weather, serving as a reminder that the Bundesliga has historically favored a long winter break extending from before Christmas and well into the new calendar year. Despite the bitter Saxon tremors and a forecast of a liberal helping of snow showers, there is optimism among those who have joined the new clubs in the east, that Rabbi Leipzig can, at least, finish second in the Oberhaus As they have done twice before in their short, polarizing history.

That they are not to everyone’s taste is important for those who do not closely follow German football to know. A few years ago, a colleague from the UK asked me about RBL and suggested that their rapid rise through the divisions must be seen as a wonderful romantic story. Maybe if they were an English club that might be true – not many in the German fan scene see it as remotely wonderful or romantic.

Red Bull looked long and hard before settling on Leipzig as a suitable city to channel their influence, essentially taking over then-fifth-tier side SSV Markranstadt and rebranding them. The “RB” in “RB Leipzig,” it should be noted, stands for Rosenballsport – “loon ball sport.” In Germany, new clubs cannot take on the name of a sponsor or company and are restricted in terms of what a sports club can be called, so someone clever thought of RasenBallsport or RB. It is still remarkable how many in the Anglo world really think they are formally called “Red Bull Leipzig,” which was the whole point of the exercise. Leipzig’s marketing department likes the nickname “The Rotten Bull“(The Red Bulls) and conveniently ignores their RasenBallsport branding.

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– Leipzig vs. Bayern: Friday, 2:30 p.m. ET, streaming live on ESPN+ and ESPN2

Their initial interpretation of the 50+1 rule – which stipulates that fans must have majority control of a club – with very few members, and all associated with the energy drink enterprise, allows them to act in a manner outside the club norms in Germany . In 2016, RB Leipzig, under the astonishing stewardship of Ralf Rangnick on the football side, climbed all the way to the top flight.

In the years since, as they have entrenched themselves in the top half of the Bundesliga table, notable figures in the German game have sung their praises. Former Bayern Munich CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said he sees them as “One enrichment” (“an enrichment”) for the League.

RB Leipzig’s sporting setup at Cottaweg is the envy of most other clubs, and their financial backing certainly helps, but Rangnick was a man with a plan that worked. The idea was to sign top young players, polish them, get them to play the RBL Gegenpressing (“counter-pressing”) way and eventually move them on for a lucrative transfer fee. This is a technique they have repeated over many years.

They are assisted by partner clubs also under the RB name, especially FC Salzburg in Austria.

German football at its heart is an expression of the wider community, and the suspicion remains that RB Leipzig has yet to build this right, and prefer to jump the queue through structural advantages while riding roached over what makes football sing in a country with the highest average Attendance in Europe.

The intense dislike of Rebel does not go away either. Fans of rank-and-file clubs have been heard to say they would prefer to see Recordmaster Bayern win the title for an 11th year running as wearing the eyes of RB Leipzig breaking the cycle.

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Once, Borussia Dortmund were accused of not doing enough to prevent their top players from moving directly to Bayern. The truth in 2023 is that anyone who believes it is still happening should look in a different direction of travel: from Leipzig to Munich.

This really started with Joshua Kimmich in 2015, but has intensified in recent years. No sooner had Dayot Upamecano agreed to commit his future to Bayern in 2021 than Julian Nagelsmann – who made Leipzig more of a rounded team in possession – was the man Rummenigge & Co. His presence then helped the signing of another Leipzig stalwart in Marcel Sabitzer. Now it looks like only a matter of time before Bayern confirm the acquisition of Sabitzer’s fellow Austrian midfielder Konrad Laimer this summer.

They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but there’s no need to imitate when you have the opportunity to go and get exactly what you want from a major competitor. The reality is that Bayern – with their record of success – remain a dream for most German-based footballers.

How does RBL deal with this fact? That’s the job for Max Eberl, the longtime sporting director of Borussia Mönchengladbach, who is back in the game in Leipzig after taking almost a year off.

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For a start, Leipzig has an excellent track record when it comes to succession planning. Losing Naby Keita, Ibrahima Konate and Upamecano didn’t damage RBL too much. It’s a plus when you can stay ahead of the expected exits, identifying and signing the likes of Josko Gvardiol, Mohamed Simakan and Dani Olmo. Eberl’s contacts and eye for a player should only elevate the conveyor-belt aspect at the club, even if – as is likely – Bayern continue to call for the best of the rest in the Bundesliga.

RBL were semi-finalists in the Champions League and Europa League, and last May, bagged their first major trophy by overcoming the people’s choice, SC Freiburg, in the DFB-Pokal final.

They went from pressing possession with Nagelsmann, to more pressing under Jesse Marsch, and then back to ball control with Domenico Tedesco. Now coach Marco Ruiz has an effective hybrid formula. To use an English-sounding expression now common in German, “the trend is your friend.” After clawing back a 3-0 deficit to draw at FC Augsburg in late October, Leipzig reeled off four successive wins against Bayer Leverkusen, TSG Hoffenheim, Freiburg and Werder Bremen, while their Champions League form showed a similar run of consecutive victories.

Against Bayern on Friday (2:30 p.m. ET, streaming live on ESPN+ and ESPN2) However, Leipzig know they must swim against the tide of history having only defeated Germany’s first club once, in March 2018. Repeating the feat without the injured Christopher Nkunku will not be easy, but there is enough quality in Rose’s squad for They to strike a blow for the chasing pack as a whole, especially against a Bayern team shorn for the next few months of Manuel Neuer.

RB Leipzig will remain largely unloved by the otherwise committed. Admire them or hurt them, but they won’t be leaving the stage anytime soon.


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