On many occasions have I sat down at my desk to write about RB Leipzig. The almost universal source of hate and scorn in German football is a universal source of frustration and keyboard bashing in myself.
A recent interview in 11 Freunde (#143, October 2013) with Energie Cottbus vice-president Wolfgang Neubert, Dynamo Dresden managing director Christian Müller and Erzgebirge Aue president Lothar Lässig brought it all to a head. In it, the trio lament the rise of RB Leipzig and the relative degeneration of the rest of the region, i.e. the former East Germany. No money, no prospects, no top-tier football – with RB flashing the cash and aiming for the stars just around the corner. To me, most of what they say epitomises the senseless, self-pitying and irritating attitude of most football fans when it comes to RB Leipzig.
Their claims are mostly lies, damn lies and (poorly researched) statistics. Is it RB Leipzig’s fault that, in Aue, sponsors “cannot come up with €6 million just like that”, as Lässig points out? No, probably not. The decline of many towns and cities here is a social issue. Aue is a tiny mining town smaller than places like Goole or Lewes, no wonder there’s no money there. Another bone of contention are Müller’s allegations that “RBL have almost forty U-16 players” and are soaking up talent all over the reason by offering lucrative deals to young teenagers. A a club managing director, Müller perhaps should have heard of DFB regulations limiting clubs’ squad sizes to 20. Attracting talent is certainly part of the RB mode, they admit that themselves. But what’s the difference between them allegedly (the club’s youth director has since publicly denied the claims) offering big contracts to youth players in Dresden or Jena and Toni Kroos being poached from Rostock by Bayern at the age of 16? That’s the way the world goes round.
Whenever the criticism rears its ugly head, there are always a few key arguments. RB typifies the commercial influence in our game, sure, but that doesn’t mean it should be the sole source of people’s ire. Case in point: the ultras at Borussia Dortmund (Ultras von die Amateure) recently announced a boycott of the match between BVB II and RB Leipzig on the grounds that the club is simply a commercial venture. Does that make it any different to BVB, a club that was floated on the stock exchange in 1999? Anyone who witnessed the BVB’s unashamed self-whoring in and around Wembley at the Champions League final will know that the “BVB brand” is just as lucrative.
Earlier in the season, MSV Duisburg fans travelled to Leipzig and proceeded to have a barbecue in front of the stadium instead of going in to support their team. This is it! This is exactly what annoys me. RB Leipzig was set up by Red Bull to increase the brand presence, surely everyone knows that? In spite of this, RB Leipzig still enjoys a relatively high, and perhaps for most quite surprising, level of support in the city. What are your protests going to do to change that? This is football, something that has long since revolved around making filthy lucre (or rather losing it, as Duisburg fans know all too well). Your absence from the away block is not going to make it go away.
It surprises me that people take the issue of RB Leipzig so seriously. Then again, football has become so vitriolic that it perhaps was only a matter of time. You want to criticise? Go ahead, by all means, but the moment you walk into Rewe and pick up a can of that Austrian energy drink to relieve your hangover you invalidate your argument. Better still, invest your energy in making sure things stay the way you want them to be at your own club. Become a member, have a say in what happens, engage in club-fan policy.
I cannot identify with RB Leipzig: The sanitised support, contrived “ultra” culture, the free tickets, the branding, people that just go along because they want to see “good” football – none of it really fits my perception of what the game is about. But neither do those people who dress up like condoms to form a T-Mobile logo in the Allianz Arena every Bayern München home game. Of course, I’m free to say that it’s all shit and I hate it – it’s my opinion after all all –, but in the end does it really have an effect on my existence as a football fan?
In Salzburg, Red Bull descended like a vulture on the carcass of SV Austria Salzburg and built their Red Bull Salzburg brand out of the ashes. That was unforgivable to most football fans around Europe, but here in Leipzig there is no “victim”. Plus, if every single football fan despised the company for what they did in Austria, why do RB Leipzig attract five-figure crowds on a regular basis? The sooner football fans come to terms with the fact that there’s almost nothing they can do about RB Leipzig, the better. Maybe then we can all move on.