For foreign observers it was hard not to be impressed by the achievements of RB Leipzig during the 2016-17 season. Just promoted, well-run and with an emphasis on youth, the newcomers shook up the established order by finishing as runners-up in the Bundesliga, casting other clubs with much larger budgets into the shadows in the process.
Not that this seemed to interest other German football fans the length and breadth of the country for whom the manufactured origins of the club and its commercial associations were a source of much consternation – RB Leipzig formed in 2009 through the purchase and renaming of a fifth-tier club named SSV Markranstädt and is strongly associated with the Red Bull drinks brand.
Criticising a lack of purity of lineage in clubs who conveniently restructure to gain footballing advantage is fine, though only if every other club they’re competing with can claim to be pure themselves. A look back at the histories of last season’s Bundesliga clubs suggests differently.
Take the complex origins of SV Hamburg for example. Two local clubs merged in 1887 to become SC Germania Hamburg and that newly created entity then merged in 1919 with Hamburger FC and FC Falke Eppendorf to become the institution we know today as HSV. Can you imagine the furious reaction to such a chain of events today?
Too far back in time to be relevant? Try instead FC Augsburg which formed only in 1969 through the merger of FK Alemania Augsburg and BC Augsburg. The plan was to create a single Swabian superclub capable of competing with the Bundesliga giants – not dissimilar to the transformation that RB has brought to the previously moribund game in Leipzig and the former East Germany as a whole.
A yet more recent example came in 2004 with the creation of FC Ingolstadt 04 via a merger of ESV Ingolstadt and MTV Ingolstadt. Like RBL, the new club went from strength to strength and last season marked their Bundesliga debut.
Indeed, while extensive political upheaval is responsible for some unwanted change, only four of last season’s Bundesliga clubs can claim to have a wholly pure lineage – Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, Hertha Berlin and Bayer Leverkusen.
The last name on that list is of course a works club which has long been part financed by Bayer pharmaceuticals and, by carrying the company’s name, acts as a powerful advertising billboard for the firm – ironically more so than is the case with RB Leipzig thanks to strict rules in place diminishing the product placement of the Red Bull brand.
Hypocrisy amongst football fans is hardly a revelation but the excessive animosity directed at RB Leipzig does show a lack of historical knowledge amongst outraged followers of other clubs who need to look a little closer to home.