Interview answers courtesy of Jack Brace, creator and former chief editor of Red Bull Hub.
Leipzig currently sit at fourth place with 31 points, three points above an impressive, attacking Frankfurt side. I wanted to gain a deeper perspective on the young club, their current season, and a quick look into what to expect under future manager Julian Nagelsmann.
Gregory: ‘Looking back, did you expect Leipzig to be as successful as they have been under Rangnick this season?’
Jack: “I honestly wasn’t too sure what to expect as I saw it as more of a transition period for next season. I wasn’t hopeful at the start as the summer transfer window was abysmal because there was no replacement for Keita, Lookman was endlessly chased to no avail and the club didn’t look for alternatives, as well as the squad being concerningly thin for a season that began in July. Saying that, Rangnick has done an impeccable job to stabilize this team and make it the best defensively in the Bundesliga. It’s a shame how the Europa League panned out, but Rangnick always had his mind set on the league, and if he can finish in the top four at the end of the season, it will be deemed a successful campaign.”
Leipzig lost in the Europa League to their “cousins” FC Red Bull Salzburg on aggregate which must have been a disappointing result. I questioned that relationship, and whether that business model is suitable to be adapted by the rest of Europe.
Gregory: ‘Obviously the relationship that Red Bull Leipzig and FC Salzburg have is heavily scrutinized - do you think that a similar method should be adopted by more wealthy teams around Europe?’
Jack: “I do believe that clubs should take inspiration from the success Red Bull’s hierarchical chain was achieved, especially in countries like England where it’s near-impossible to introduce incubator clubs into the frame because of the sheer popularity of the sport. It could be wise for say Manchester United to develop connections with a club in which the philosophy is similar in order to prepare their talent for the Premier League. This will not only benefit them, but the national team.”
Gregory: ‘Should a similar method be adopted around Europe, would that bring about the further destabilization of UEFA’s power in context to the larger clubs’ leverage over UEFA, with FFP, under the table contract dealings, and the potential creation of a Super League?’
Jack: “To be honest, I’m not quite sure what type of knock-on effect this might have on UEFA, but, at the end of the day, it’s not like they’re penalising the infringements made by super clubs anyway.”
I see how this answer makes sense. To a certain extent, in the perspective of Red Bull and their plans for continued success, if it is not illegal to continue pursuing that business model, it can and will continue to get exploited. That said, the further implications of what it could mean for smaller clubs attempting to compete with potential conglomerates in the future is pretty damning evidence, in my opinion, why something of the ilk of Leipzig’s current business model should be immediately moved against.
Gregory: ‘Seeing how Haidara, Wolf, Keita, Leimer, Adams and others have made a switch to Leipzig from other Red Bull sides in recent seasons - do you think that Red Bull’s ability to pull players from other Red Bull affiliated sides in different leagues is an unfair advantage? Especially for how hassle free and discounted these signings seem to be.’
Jack: “If you’re intellectually superior to your competition, does that give you an unfair advantage? No. Red Bull has positioned itself ahead of its competitors by setting up clubs in areas that make it easier for them to cover the globe in search of talent. I think people need to bare in mind that, although there is a connection, these are separate clubs with separate objectives to achieve. I do not believe there is special treatment either. If Haidara, for example, believes the next best step in his career is to move to Leipzig, then so be it, the two must negotiate a fee that is suitable for both parties.”
It is interesting to explore that perspective. My personal opinion lies on the opposite side of this take - but if UEFA take no action, and it is allowed, then Red Bull affiliated sides are obviously allowed to continue exploiting the loopholes that exist. It may not be uncontroversial, but if it is legal, then there is nothing completely unfair to cry about, when clubs like Dortmund or Bayern (who have the funds) could potentially do the same.
Looking forward into next year, Rangnick will step aside as manager for the second side in his career while working for Leipzig to make room for Nagelsmann in the summer. A large transition is to be expected, and while a large quantity of quality is certainly at the club, more quality is set to move to the club this winter and in the summer in preparation for Nagelsmann’s reign.
Gregory :‘Nagelsmann is moving from Hoffenheim to Leipzig during the summer. With more resources, and talent, at his disposal next season, what should the expectations be next year? What should the expectations be for his time in Leipzig?’
Jack: “Like it is every season, it is imperative that the Leipzig qualifies for the Champions League in order to progress as a club. Although Naglesmann on his own is an enticing proposition for young players, Leipzig needs to be in Europe’s main competition in order to entice the most exciting of prospects. Also, the revenue received from being in the Champions League will allow Leipzig to financially compete with Bayern Munich for someone like Hudson-Odoi in the future.”
Gregory: ‘Nagelsmann will have a lot of young talent at his disposal to work with next year. Which current players would you mark as potential cornerstones for him to build his team around? In which areas would you potentially look to improve the side.’
Jack: “Whenever I can find the time to watch Hoffenheim, I constantly ask myself who would fit where. Demme, Upamecano, and Konate are obvious candidates, Matheus Cunha is an outside shout to fill the Joelinton role (I think Naglesmann will take a liking to him). Saracchi could be key because of Naglesmann’s desire to attack with width, despite falling out of favour in recent months. Mukiele, Haidara, and Sabitzer are notable mentions. In addition, I’m very intrested to see what he has up his sleeve for Wolf when he arrives.”
One of those cornerstones could be Timo Werner after this summer, especially if he signs a contract extension. Some context at his time at the club and his qualities as a player needed to be clarified.
Gregory: ‘Timo Werner has been creating a lot of hype as a potential next star forward for Bayern, Real Madrid or a club of similar stature - especially as he enters the last year in his contract next season. Where do you see him moving (or possibly staying)? What shortcomings in his game need to be improved upon the most?’
Jack: “A lot of people might disagree with me, but I think Werner is quite limited. He has to be in a system that entices the opposition’s defence and creates space for him to run into. When space isn’t available and he drifts wide, he needs to add variety into his game in regards to dribbling as his main aim is to run to the byline and cut it back, which is quite predictable. Future-wise, I can only see him staying if Champions League qualification is achieved. Where he goes, I don’t know.”
And I wanted to look a little bit at Leipzig’s current standing in the Bundesliga. As a newer club with financial prowess, their goal is the Champions League on a yearly basis. While not very few clubs can match the might that Bayern currently possess in the Bundesliga, I wondered who they could compare themselves to and who they would look at to maybe close that ground between themselves and Bayern.
Gregory: ‘Looking forward, who is Leipzig’s biggest competitor or rival in the Bundesliga? A lot has been made of the animosity between Leipzig and Dortmund supporters, but surely the club aspires to reach Bayern’s level within several years? Or as Dortmund improves with under Favre, is the mission to keep pace with a growing side?’
Jack: I would say Dortmund is Leipzig’s main competition as they are what stand in the way of reaching the heights of Bayern. With the values of each club antithetical, there was always going to be a rivalry, but this has only been fuelled by protests and the altercations between the two in the club’s first meeting at Signal Iduna Park. Although being on par with Bayern is the objective, keeping up with Dortmund is the main priority at the moment.
Many thanks to Jack Brace, who was immensely helpful in the creation of article. It was fascinating to gather his perspective, and a rather unorthodox one, especially when considering that not only is Leipzig a newer club than most Bundesliga clubs, but the club has been villainized (rightly or not) due to their unusual arrangement with a parent company and the large economic benefits are a result of that aforementioned arrangement. RedBull Leipzig is very much a product of the shortcomings of the 50+1 and FFP rules established by the DFB and UEFA respectively. Because of the financial power, eye for youngsters, and similar business plan as BVB, they provide a certain foil or comparison to Dortmund - with similarities and vast differences in key areas. It is weird to think that Leipzig could be another Dortmund’s rival for the foreseeable future, seeing how Schalke are the historical and local rivals, and Bayern has been the rival during the Klopp years and during their era of financial and league dominance.
While Red Bull’s approach to build a club in Leipzig has rubbed the vast majority of the Bundesliga traditionalists the wrong way, their impact on the community should not be undersold. The last time a club from former East Germany plied their trade in the Bundesliga was Hansa Rostock in the mid 2000s. The fact that football culture in former East Germany could be so neglected and economically defunct implies that measures need to be taken to build up the footballing communities and culture from this area of the nation. The only player to come from former East Germany to currently ply his trade in the national team is Toni Kroos. And to a certain extent, I am happy that with the proper independent funding, a quality community and club can be established in an area that is not from one of several typical regions of the country.