Few teams have experienced a more hostile welcome to the Bundesliga than promoted RB Leipzig, with the Red Bull-owned team sensationally taking over the top of the Bundesliga amid criticism of its cash-driven success.
Loathed by many fans in Germany for what they consider as corporate football purely serving another commercial operation – after energy drink Red Bull bought an amateur licence seven years ago and funded the team’s rapid rise through the divisions – Leipzig was under pressure even before winning promotion last season.
In a country where club ownership is strictly regulated and majority control granted only after 20 years of continuous investment, Leipzig’s rise to the top has angered many who claim it bent the rules.
Across most stadiums fans have staged protests against the team. Last week bags of paint were thrown by Bayer Leverkusen fans at the team bus following Leipzig’s 3-2 Bundesliga win.
Even Borussia Dortmund CEO Hans-Joachim Watzke joined the chorus of criticism, citing the club’s lack of football tradition and saying it was set up purely “to sell cans of soda”.
“I think one has to draw a line between the sporting achievements on one side and the question what this means for the culture of football,” ’11 Friends’ football magazine chief editor, Philipp Koester told Reuters.
“I don’t think it is an improvement if teams, which actually only exist to promote a drink or do advertisement for a company who owns a football department now. Football clubs should dominate in the Bundesliga and it is definitely not good.”
On the pitch, however, unbeaten Leipzig have been exciting to watch with their brand of quick-paced football. Coach Ralph Hasenhuettl thinks some of the criticism is because of their on-field success.
“I don’t know how this influences the players, you would have to ask the players,” the coach told reporters this week.
“How it influences me? We have stirred up a hornets’ nest with our sporting achievements and it is normal.
“I don’t have time to deal with those remarks, because during the week I have so many things to do, so that I don’t respond to this ahead of a match. I don’t think about it.”
Leipzig have silenced some of their critics with a six-match winning streak and their trip to Freiburg on Friday could see them stretch their lead to six points, at least for a day, with Bayern Munich in action against Bayer Leverkusen on Saturday.
“We are not running around, cheering all day, congratulating ourselves (for the lead),” Hasenhuettl said. “We don’t need that. The fact that we play good and successful football at the moment of course helps us to become more self-confident on the pitch.
“We know where we come from, we know that we have a young team and we know that don’t have much experience in the Bundesliga yet.”