The Red Bull Dilemma
RB Leipzig aren’t a team that gets mentioned on a day-to-day basis (unless you’re stuck in the deep realms of a football manager challenge forum), but day-by-day, seem to be gaining a reputation of a club on the up. Formerly SSV Markranstradt sitting in the basement of German football, 5th tier football wasn’t the plan for the new owners, Red Bull. Red Bull stated when they came in that within 10 years, they should be competing within the Bundesliga, challenging for a position that even Dortmund have failed to do so this year in reaching the Champions League.
Long story short, Leipzig have followed suit on the aforementioned Red Bull guidelines and hurtled like a madman to get just short of the golden chalice that is the Bundesliga. With four promotions within the last six years, the club have not only raised eyebrows over the nation, but are now tapping on the shoulder of giants.
Obviously clubs around them and teams still in the lower leagues aren’t happy with the way that Leipzig are going about things. “50+1” rulings are the law in Germany, meaning no club can be owned by parent investors holding majority rights where that investor has substantial links to a stock company, so no John W Henry or Roman Abramovich. The reasoning behind this is that it gives the leagues and the Football Association with a nice warm, fuzzy glow in regards to it being community run club just as Germany like to promote. But there are ways around it, Leverkusen are run by Bayer, a well-known pharmaceutical company, Wolfsburg are VW owned and Audi/Adidas have shares in Bayern Munich but are principally ran by “members of a committee”. Ironically, RB doesn’t even stand for Red Bull, it stands for Rasenballensport, which translates into “lawn ball sports”, which is obviously the way around not being able to name them after a commercial company.
Given that they sit on the precipice of the Bundesliga and the ideology of competing with the big boys of German football, they are making a strong case for reaching that sooner rather than later. An €8m purchase of David Selke, one of the up and coming talents of German football is a rather big eye opener. Not that he’s the only one. Nukan from Besiktas for €5m and have made big dents in the under-17 and 19’s campaigns in the last two seasons, alongside a manager with an excellent reputation in the footballing world in Ralf Rangnick, you could see them achieving to what they set out to do.
But could English football possibly be more reluctant to say no to a major player like Red Bull? Should they come along and sweep away a club, changing its crest, colours and half time drink choice. We’ve seen signs of it already, although just once (which for plenty, including myself, is more than enough), with MK Dons and Wimbledon. MK Dons adopted the idea of moving a club from the centre of London, 56 miles north to an outpost in Milton Keynes in the stead of the recently relegated Wimbledon. With the backing of the board of Wimbledon, Peter Winkleman with the help of retail partners in Asda and Ikea, bought the rights and relocated the club, changed name and saw Wimbledon’s history null and void. With this came fury. Understandably from Wimbledon fans, but more-so the footballing community as a whole, and saw the rise of AFC Wimbledon, which like the beautiful tale of FC United, undertook a promotion charge and now see themselves apart of the professional footballing league.
This has happened before in another league when Red Bull’s bus came into town. In sleepy Austria, SV Casino Salzburg were bought and rebranded in an unrelenting takeover, in which the club’s history was evaporated and a new club born. The fan base was torn and those that pledged their loyalty to the “violet whites” saw them re-register the club’s name and emblem (in which they got their club’s birth name in SV Austria Salzburg). But again, as on most occasions, they had to do it from the basement league of Austrian football. I don’t like to use the word “fairytale” or “narrative” in football, but these tales are worthwhile. In the 10 years since the dissolution of the Salzburg one into two teams, the violette have hit heights that sit along the same lines of what RB Leipzig’s current situation in just below the top league.
When looking at the possibility of an English Red Bull team, we need to look into the demographics and location that Red Bull seek out in a team. Size of the city seems to be a common theme, having teams in Sao Paolo (14th most popular in Brazil), New York (one of the biggest American states), Salzburg (one of the largest metropolitan and historical sites in Austria) and lastly Leipzig which is 100 miles south of Berlin. Any team in London is likely tug at Red Bull’s attention and equally any side that remains close in proximity and sits either in the Premiership or Championship has a good shout. If Milton Keynes was open to another takeover, they’d be as good a shout as any for a Red Bull takeover, given the city’s size and links to London. Maybe I’m just being slightly biased against the Dons, but that would pretty the funniest reactions to since “winkgate”.
Murmurings of takeovers at Leeds and my hometown team Notts County in previous years, with Leeds fans probably now more accepting of the idea than their current Italian overlord, have left English teams waiting to see if and when Red Bull make the plunge into English football. In April, a formal offer was made to Leeds United, but the lack of progress leads to the assumption that the offer is now off the table. Such takeovers seems to tear teams and their fanbase in two, whether they build a new team from the foundations or continue following a club that’s history will be wiped for a new beginning. The most obvious dilemma that arises from this scenario is the growth of the English league and sponsorship of pretty much anything that can house a brand. Whilst German and Austrian authorities largely maintain a consensus against commercialism in football, whether that consensus could be built England is a different kettle of fish altogether.
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