RB Leipzig and the 50+1 rule.
For many, German football remains one of the last great bastions of footballing idealism. German fans are passionate, vocal and opposed to any degree of commercial interference into the game they love. German football has managed to hold on to these values in part through their adoption of the 50+1 rule.
The 50+1 rule is a shortened name for a clause that exists in the German Football League bylaws. The clause states that in order to obtain a licence to compete in the Bundesliga, clubs must retain their own voting majority. This is to ensure that club members have the final say in decision making through owning at least 50%, plus 1 share of the club. This prevents external companies and investors from gaining decision making rights for a club. As a result of this, the fans have a much larger say in their clubs’ operations than they do in other clubs; namely the premier league.
Prior to 1998, German football clubs were non-profit organisations and any private ownership of clubs was prohibited. Following a ruling by the German Footballing Association (DFB), clubs were then allowed to convert their teams into public or private limited companies if they saw fit. This was providing the 50+1 rule was upheld. The ruling allows German football to retain its core values and fan importance upon which much of modern German football is built. However, one club that doesn’t necessarily see eye-to-eye with the rest of the Bundesliga is RB Leipzig.
RB Leipzig’s meteoric rise has been nothing short of remarkable. At the time of writing they sit 2nd in the Bundesliga only 1 point behind league leaders Borussia Monchengladbach. A feat impressive in itself but one that becomes almost astonishing when you realise that the club was only founded on the 19th May 2009. This means in just over 10 years; RB Leipzig have ascended 4 divisions of German Football and are now challenging for another Bundesliga title having finished 2nd in 16/17 (their debut season!) and 3rd in 18/19. However, such success is often only attainable through potentially nefarious means.
Another piece of legislation in the Bundesliga is the prohibition of sponsors from including their brand as part of the club. For example, contrary to popular belief, the RB in RB Leipzig does not stand for ‘Red Bull’ despite it being common knowledge that the club is owned and ran by the energy drink giant. Instead the RB stands for ‘RasenBallsport’. Which roughly translates to ‘lawn ball sport’ in English. This is a savvy marketing technique from Red Bull allowing them to proudly display their company as part of the club without breaking any rules. It does however, seem a little futile to put so much concern into preventing companies from influencing the club name when the stadium name is immune from any such sanctions. In fact, one of Red Bull’s first actions after taking over the club in 2010 was to change the name of the former World Cup 2006 stadium from the Zentralstadion to the Red Bull Arena. A slightly more overt method of branding.
Critics say RB Leipzig do not conform to the 50+1 rule and are finding ways to bend the rules. It seems these concerns may not be entirely unwarranted. All founding members of RB Leipzig in 2010 were employees or agents of Red Bull meaning it is hard to see how they represent the interests of the fans rather than a private investor. Rival fans, either through a sense of jealousy or pride, condemn RB Leipzig for their extravagant spending relative to other clubs in their position. For instance, in the 2014/15 season, whilst RB Leipzig were still in the 2. Bundesliga (2nd division of German Football,) they spent a total of £21.02m according to ‘TransferMarkt.’ This only delivered them a 5th place finish in the league whereas eventual winners; FC Ingolstadt 04 only spent a paltry £1.49m. Comparisons have been drawn with free spending clubs in other countries such as Chelsea and Manchester City. Naturally, the: “buying the league” criticism is never far from Leipzig’s doorstep.
This isn’t to say that Leipzig don’t develop their own talent. Bayern Munich’s Joshua Kimmich was bought from RB Leipzig and talented front 2: Timo Werner and Yousef Poulsen were both brought in for a fraction of what they are worth now with the former on the fringes of a big-money-move to one of Europe’s elite clubs. Stoic centre half, Dayot Upamecano was brought in from sister club RB Salzburg for a fee of £9 million and it looks like it would now cost in excess of £50 million to prise the Frenchman away. Upamecano’s move from Salzburg to Leipzig cements one final problem fans seem to have with the German outfit; their ability to hoover up talent from their sister clubs in other leagues.
RB Salzburg, founded in 2005, was RB Leipzig’s predecessor and unlike their German counterparts can brand themselves as FC Red Bull Salzburg through different branding legislation in the Austrian Bundesliga, although this is a luxury only afforded to them in domestic competitions as they have to revert back to FC Salzburg on the European stage. Since the 15/16 season, RB Leipzig have brought in a total of 10 players from RB Salzburg, most notably: Amadou Haidara, Dayot Upamecano and Liverpool midfielder Naby Keita. Keita cost the Reds an initial £48 million and both Haidara and Upamecano will command large price tags should they choose to leave. Critics argue RB Leipzig are able to sign promising talents on the cheap from their sister teams and sell on them for much larger sums in which they can reinvest elsewhere. This is further applicable in the 2019/20 season as one of RB Salzburg’s brightest ever talents and one of the most sought-after prospects in world football: Erling Braut Haaland looks set to snub Manchester United for a move to RB Leipzig or what is sometimes colloquially referred to as Salzburg’s first team! Haaland currently has 27 goals and 7 assists in only 19 appearances. These are frightening figures for a man who is still only 19 years of age. Any club in world football would be lucky to have him and if Leipzig manage to pick him up on the cheap it would add some credence to the view that they can exploit their unique position over other clubs.
RB Leipzig have been referred to as the ‘the most hated club in Germany’ but I’m sure these words will bounce off their fans like bubbles to water. Whilst Leipzig have certainly benefitted from resources unavailable to other Bundesliga clubs, their success speaks for itself. In 2019/20, under coaching prodigy Julian Nagelsmann, Leipzig look set to take the league by storm, and it would not be surprising if in 10 years, in the same way Ferguson did to Liverpool, Leipzig could finally knock Bayern “right off their f*cking perch!”
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