Perhaps sometimes there is such a thing as bad publicity.
As RB Leipzig prepared for the biggest game of their short history – Tuesday’s Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain – the German club had a late change of heart.
They stopped training near their hotel in Estoril and moved to a facility owned by the Portuguese FA.
RB Leipzig are despised in Germany with accusations they are simply a ‘marketing’ project
The club trained in facilities away from prying eyes before their Champions League semi-final
Why? Those pitches are away from prying eyes. No spies, no unwanted attention. And yet – at least in some quarters – they needn’t have worried.
Last week popular German football magazine 11 FREUNDE announced they would not cover the semi-final. ‘We don’t want to normalize the RB Leipzig construct any further,’ they wrote.
But to ignore this exciting team and coach Julian Nagelsmann is growing harder by the day.
In the 11 years since their formation, RB Leipzig have risen from the fifth tier to the cusp of European glory. Their bold recruitment model allows them to stand among Europe’s best and their young coach uses technology and innovation to scale new heights.
RB Leipzig rose from the fifth tier to the cusp of European glory 11 years after their formation
Popular German football magazine 11 FREUNDE revealed they would not cover the semi-final
LEIPZIG’S RAPID RISE
2009: Club is founded on May 19 and begins competing in the Oberliga, the German fifth tier
2010: Promoted as champions in their first season, suffering just two defeats
2011: Finish fourth and win the Saxony Cup, their first title
2013: Win the title and are promoted to the third tier
2014: Finish second and go straight up to second tier
2016: Now playing in front of home crowds of 25,000, they finish second and are promoted to the Bundesliga
2017: Bundesliga runners up
2019: Finish third and reach the German Cup final
2020: In Nagelsmann’s first season, they finish third and are now one match from the Champions League final
For many, however, RB Leipzig jar with the essence of what football clubs are for. Where is the fairytale, critics argue, in Red Bull – a billion-pound energy drinks corporation – infiltrating a proud football culture for a ‘pure marketing project’?
There is certainly little romance in their roots. By mid-2009, Red Bull had considered taking over clubs such as St Pauli and Fortuna Dusseldorf, only to face fierce fan opposition.
So eventually the company turned to the German fifth tier, to SSV Markranstadt. They bought the playing licence and dressed them in company colours.
Straight away the venture hit traffic. Opponents poured weed killer on their pitch, while the authorities would not allow Red Bull in the team name.
They dodged that by using RasenBallsport (‘lawn ball sport’) or RB Leipzig and found a loophole in Germany’s ownership regulations, too.
The ’50+1′ rule means clubs must be majority owned by members, typically supporters. While Borussia Dortmund have around 150,000, it’s claimed RB Leipzig have only 19 and most are linked to the drinks company.
The football has proved less of a headache. With Red Bull’s backing, Leipzig climbed into the Bundesliga within seven years. Now, they are in the last four of the Champions League.
And in keeping with this unconventional incarnation of modern football, Leipzig push new boundaries on the training ground.
Julian Nagelsmann pushes new boundaries on the training field using cutting edge technology
Academy players train their mind using the SoccerBot360 – a circular pen with 360-degree screens that helps improve peripheral vision and anticipation. It can even simulate top-level matches to aid tactical analysis.
Nagelsmann, meanwhile, varies pitch sizes and shapes, while the club uses dedicated athletics coaches to help with their pressing. Defender Lukas Klostermann has recorded a quicker time over 30m than Usain Bolt.
By now, Leipzig are part of a swelling portfolio that includes New York Red Bulls, Red Bull Salzburg and Red Bull Brasil. In Germany, the ‘architect’ of their rise has been Ralf Rangnick, 62, who has worked as sporting director, manager, and mastermind of the scouting and playing philosophies which underpin their success.
Leipzig target young, hungry talent, with Chelsea’s Timo Werner a perfect example of a player they developed and sold on for a huge profit.
Defender Lukas Klostermann has even recorded a quicker time over 30m than Usain Bolt
Leipzig are part of a swelling portfolio that includes New York Red Bulls and Red Bull Salzburg
None of the current squad cost more than £20million and American Tyler Adams – the matchwinner against Atletico Madrid – is among a big group of players and staff who have moved between the Red Bull projects.
Thanks to Rangnick, there is symmetry in how their teams play. Using heavy pressing and fast transitions, they aim to regain the ball within five seconds and shoot within 10 seconds of winning it back.
The man tasked with honing those principles in Leipzig is Nagelsmann, the skateboarding, paragliding prodigy who turned down Real Madrid in 2018.
Nagelsmann has expressed his wish to work as a mountain guide after retiring from coaching
This ‘Mini-Mourinho’ is training to become a pilot and one day hopes to work as a mountain guide in the Alps.
For now, though, he clambers primarily up a six-metre tower to study training from above. The 33-year-old still picks the brains of Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp but he has outlasted them in Europe’s premier competition.
On Tuesday night he will face Thomas Tuchel, who spawned his coaching career by giving him scouting work at Augsburg II after injury ended his playing days at just 20.
For all this invention and ingenuity, Leipzig’s story does not tug many heart strings back home.
The Leipzig boss will meet Thomas Tuchel, who kickstarted his coaching career, on Tuesday
But for all their invention and ingenuity, Leipzig’s story does not tug heart strings back home
Leipzig face protests from opposition fans and a bull’s head was thrown towards the pitch
In 2016, Dynamo Dresden fans threw a severed bull’s head towards the pitch and Leipzig still face regular protests from opposition fans. Not because of jealously or tribalism but because, in the words of 11 FREUNDE, ‘RB Leipzig is not a football club, RB Leipzig is an imitation.’
They are ‘based on cheating’, they used a ‘few lazy tricks’ to circumvent the rules and they were ‘created solely to strengthen the Red Bull brand’.
Even when they train behind closed doors.