RB Leipzig have a chance to collect the first major silverware of the club’s brief history when they face Bayern Munich in Saturday’s DFB-Pokal final.
Much has been written about the club’s ownership status and how the backing of drinks company Red Bull has fuelled their rise, but on the pitch there is much to admire about Leipzig.
Despite ending the league campaign with a slump of three winless matches, Leipzig secured a Champions League return by finished third in the Bundesliga, albeit some 12 points behind champions Bayern.
Niko Kovac has the double in his sights in his first season in charge of the Bavarian giants, even if victory in Berlin may not be enough to keep his job. And Leipzig will be tough opponents, though the final will be a new experience for many of them.
Much of their progress has been down to the steady leadership of Ralf Rangnick, who will be in the dugout for the final time of his second spell in charge.
Hoffenheim’s Julian Nagelsmann, one of the world’s most exciting young coaches, is set to take over with Rangnick moving upstairs into a director of football role once more.
OFFICIAL: Julian #Nagelsmann will become RB Leipzig head coach from the 2019/20 season.
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) June 21, 2018
It was Rangnick who was at the helm when Leipzig were promoted to the Bundesliga in the 2015-16 season, writing an important chapter for the new kids on the block.
“I think not one of our team [has played] in a cup final,” he told reporters after the 3-1 semi-final victory at Hamburg.
Leipzig were only formed in 2009. Red Bull, who also run Salzburg – Austrian champions six years running – took over SSV Markranstadt and controversially rebranded the club, whose progress since has been rapid.
Put simply, they have achieved what nobody else has in the history of German football, eclipsing some of the country’s traditional powerhouses to take a seat at the game’s top table.
Borussia Dortmund supporters are among those to have protested against Leipzig’s sudden appearance among the elite, while the club’s interpretation of German football’s vaunted 50+1 rule regarding ownership structures has invited criticism.
Set against Dortmund’s 139,000 members holding the majority of club voting rights on matters such as ticket prices, Leipzig have 17 members and charge an annual feel of €1,000 for the privilege – leading to accusations that they sign up to the letter of the law but not the spirit.
But Leipzig are not the first German club to have been bolstered by big money. Bayer Leverkusen have intrinsic ties to the Bayer pharmaceutical company, Wolfsburg are closely associated with car giant Volkswagen and Hoffenheim are backed by software billionaire Dietmar Hopp.
Quite a bit’s changed in the last years
— RB Leipzig English (@RBLeipzig_EN) May 19, 2019
That Leipzig have little history to speak of is not in doubt, but the future of the club looks incredibly bright and it is no exaggeration to suggest they could be the most likely pretenders to Bayern’s throne, despite Dortmund’s near-miss in the title race and impressive early work in the transfer window.
What is for certain is nobody at Bayern will be taking anything for granted when they face Leipzig with the DFB-Pokal on the line. Germany winger Serge Gnabry, whose fine form has made him a vital player for club and country this season, expects Leipzig’s rise to continue in the near future.
“Leipzig have always been in the top four in the Bundesliga the last four years,” Gnabry, who played under Nagelsmann while on loan at Hoffenheim last season, told DAZN. “Now they will be getting a new coach and new players. Nagelsmann is a fanatic and that [will transfer] to his players. They always want to become better, so I think Leipzig will be a big player in years to come.”
How Bayern approach Leipzig muscling in on their territory will be interesting. They have traditionally cherry-picked the star players of their closest rivals, taking Leon Goretzka from Schalke last year – they subsequently plummeted down the league – while two of their most important players, Mats Hummels and Robert Lewandowski, built their careers and reputations with BVB.
— Germany (@DFB_Team_EN) November 13, 2018
It is Leipzig striker Timo Werner who Bayern are said to have an eye on next, with Gnabry’s Germany team-mate only having a year left to run on his contract at the Red Bull Arena. Bayern are set for a lavish revamp, having already landed defensive duo Benjamin Pavard and Lucas Hernandez.
Leipzig have signalled they will not keep Werner and risk losing him for nothing in 2020, so the club have been put in a difficult position. They may need to sell Werner, but will not want to lose the player to a direct rival. Champions League finalists Liverpool are also reportedly keen, having already signed Naby Keita last year.
Whether or not the DFB-Pokal final proves Werner’s last game for his current employers remains to be seen, but the striker may yet fire Leipzig to their first major trophy. Despite what opposition fans may think about the club, it could be the first of many.
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