RB Leipzig, Bundesliga
RB Leipzig has not always been a first division Bundesliga team. Filip Singer/Shutterstock.

There is no such thing as away day hospitality for RB Leipzig in the Bundesliga. At least, there wasn’t before the coronavirus pandemic struck. They might well be the only club in the division grateful for the lack of fans in the stands as the 2019/20 season resumes this weekend. As far as they’re concerned, no fans is better than baying protests, the likes of which RB Leipzig’s players and staff have faced almost every away day for the last few years.

What makes RB Leipzig so heavily disliked?

To say RB Leipzig are German soccer’s despised club would be an understatement. Opponents say they go against the very grain of the sport’s culture in the country, that they are merely a marketing construct to sell energy drinks. They might have skirted the Bundesliga’s strict ‘50+1’ rule on corporate ownership, offering membership but only at a highly premium rate, but German fans, they say, have not been fooled. They see RB Leipzig for what they really are.

Many of their allegations carry weight. Without the money of the Red Bull brand, RB Leipzig would not even exist. Instead, SSV Markranstadt, the club whose league membership Red Bull bought out in order to enter the German soccer pyramid at the fifth tier, would still be around. It’s difficult to argue RB Leipzig have organically risen to their current heights. Their success is artificial.

An impressive–and effective–design

And yet there is still much to admire about how they have achieved that success. RB Leipzig and the Red Bull brand have built a scouting network to rival any other in the game right now. They know how to work the transfer market better than most, identifying undervalued prospects and turning them into fully-fledged superstars time and time again.

Their current team is among the most exciting in Europe at this moment. RB Leipzig might have suffered a dip in form following the winter break, dropping them down to third in the Bundesliga table, but they remain, in the eyes of many, primary challengers to Bayern Munich’s supremacy, not just this season but for seasons to come too. RB Leipzig have the core to endure.

In Timo Werner, they boast one of the best young goalscorers in the game. Christopher Nkunku, signed for just $12 million having been deemed surplus to requirements at Paris Saint-Germain, is among the Bundesliga’s top assist-makers this season, notching 12 in 23 appearances. Dayot Upamecano is their defensive bedrock and looks destined for a mega-money move to one of Europe’s elite clubs at some point in the near future, with Manchester City in particular reportedly interested.

Key to RB Leipzig’s network is the string of sister clubs around the world also under the Red Bull umbrella. Most notably, Red Bull Salzburg have proved themselves to be world class at harnessing talent in their own right, as they demonstrated in the Champions League group stage earlier this season. Their continental performances were enough to earn Erling Haaland and Takumi Minamino January transfers to Borussia Dortmund and Liverpool respectively.

These transfers actually broke a trend which had, for the last few years, seen Salzburg’s brightest and best swap Austria for Germany, treading the hierarchal line that puts RB Leipzig at the top of the Red Bull order. Indeed, Naby Keita, Peter Gulasci, Stefan Ilsanker, Bernardo, Konrad Laimer, Amadou Haidara, Hannes Wolf and the aforementioned Upamecano have all followed this path.

In Julian Nagelsmann, the managerial prodigy who has been a Bundesliga boss since he was 28, RB Leipzig are also headed by arguably the best young coach in Europe. There was a certain symbolism to his bettering of Jose Mourinho in the Champions League last 16 before the coronavirus shutdown, as if a great of the sport’s last generation had been left in the shadows by someone at the vanguard of the next.

Then there’s Ralf Rangnick, the former coach turned director who is credited with building the soccer infrastructure in place at RB Leipzig. Much can be traced back to the hiring of the former Hoffenheim and Schalke boss as sporting director in 2012, with Rangnick even stepping in to coach the club when they were between managers on two separate occasions. Few sporting organisations today have been moulded so comprehensively by one figure as RB Leipzig have by Rangnick. It is the house that Ralf built, or at the very least designed.

If RB Leipzig embody all that is bad about modern soccer, they have also come to embody what is good about it. Their commitment to youth and shrewd scouting permeates through the whole organisation. To claim that RB Leipzig are purely in the business of shifting energy drinks is to ignore all that they have built. Red Bull might give you wings, but that’s not the only reason they are flying.