RB Leipzig put east Germany back on the football map, but at what cost? Is their achievement a success story, or is it bad omen for the future of football?
Football is a business. It’s bitter pill to swallow for real fans, who watch football for pleasure rather than seeing it as a way to earn some extra cash. Those fans, such as myself, likely remember the days when teams measured their strengths on the pitch, and the main goal wasn’t to win or not to lose, but to score more than the opponent. That time, which was not in the too distant past, is now long gone. We are witnessing a result-based game in which each victory brings more money. Money pays paychecks, and the more money an owner has, the bigger the player’s salary is. As players take the field to win and earn a bigger salary instead of for pleasure and fun, tactics begin to matter more. As that occurs, the game itself begins losing its appeal. A vicious circle has been created, and in a money-oriented world, a way out seems implausible (if not impossible).
RB Leipzig is the latest, and the most vivid example of what can be achieved with money at free disposal. Founded in 2009 by Red Bull, it was its fifth club overall, and the only one that wasn’t allowed to bear the Red Bull name due to rules in German football. Its ambitious project to reach the highest level in Germany’s top flight within 8 years seemed too far-fetched. Despite resistance from within Germany’s football association and concerns that the club was in the hands of only a few businessmen who would make huge profits if the newly-founded club succeeded, RB Leipzig kept climbing the ladder faster than anyone anticipated. In 2016, it was a member of the Bundesliga, and in 2017 it was already participating in the Champions League.
How did they do it you ask? Well, we come back to where we started, something that’s simultaneously seen by different people as either the blessing, or as the curse of modern-day football – money. Red Bull’s rich owners devised a clever plan to lure some of the most talented young scouts, coaches and other members of staff by offering them salaries which others weren’t willing to match. Once the base was created, those same staff members were given the freedom to spend more (much, much more) than anyone else in the division they played in could afford to. Even when RB Leipzig was competing in the second tier, it had a team worthy of the first. Hiring Ralph Hasenhuttl turned out to be a stroke of genius, as he was the ideal man to carry his inexperienced team through adversity.
From one side, RB Leipzig’s climb to the top is seen as a success story, and will surely become motivation for other business investors in search of ways to earn more. On the other side, what RB Leipzig has done goes against football tradition, bending all moral and ethical principles which lie at the core of the world’s most popular sport. Whether you think it’s good or bad is likely irrelevant, as we, the fans, have no power over the ones making the decisions. And those decisions are made by people who couldn’t care less whether a derby such as Real Madrid versus Barcelona ends 0-0 or 5-4, as long as their wallet is full at the end of the day. We can argue and debate as much as you want, but the matter of fact is that football has lost its allure. It isn’t as attractive as it used to be, and as more and more foreign investors, who are clueless about the game, buy clubs in order to increase their fortune, the less and less are fans going to enjoy their beloved game. Like it or not, RB Leipzig’s meteoric rise will become a precedent, a model of how to conduct football business.