For RB Leipzig coach Ralf Rangnick, winning today’s German Cup final against Bayern Munich would mean more than just silverware. Rangnick, who took over as sporting director at Leipzig in 2012 and has since had two spells doubling up as head coach, is the brains behind the club’s rapid rise from the lower leagues to the very top of German football since the club’s founding in 2009.
He has described his seven-year association with controversial outfit Leipzig, who hope to win a first major title in their short history at Berlin’s Olympic Stadium today, as “a sort of life’s work”. “When I look back at the seven years I have been here, it seems much longer,” he told Kicker magazine earlier this month.
Leipzig’s success has challenged the recent duopoly of Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, but has also been bitterly divisive, with fans across the country protesting against the club’s controversial business model. Love them or loathe them, though, they are now an established power at the top of the German game, and hope to confirm that status by winning the cup today.
“To win our first title on our 10-year anniversary against Bayern Munich would crown on an extraordinary season” Rangnick said.
Leipzig were founded by energy drinks company Red Bull in 2009, and immediately soared up the league pyramid, rising from the fifth tier to the top flight by 2016.
For their critics, the club are a commercial blight on the traditions and fan-focused principles of German football. Their open affiliation with the global beverage brand and the lack of voting rights for their fans continue to outrage supporters across Germany, who consider them an inauthentic club.
When Leipzig hosted Bayern in the league earlier this month, the visiting fans held up foul-mouthed banners expressing their distaste for what critics sneeringly call “the RB Leipzig construct”. The club’s proponents, however, point to the fact that Leipzig have brought success to a football-starved and economically struggling region of Germany.
After most of the grand old clubs from the former communist East Germany hit hard times following reunification, Leipzig have brought top-level football back to the area. “If a young kid wanted to support a Bundesliga team around here, there weren’t many options before,” Rangnick said.
“Now kids are proudly walking around in RB shirts. The cup has never been won by an Eastern team...
I think that more people than ever will be wanting us to win on Saturday.”
Many fans in the region may disagree with that sentiment, but there is little doubt that Leipzig’s model has been successful. “Nobody expected them to become a top club so quickly,” Bayern midfielder Joshua Kimmich, who played for Leipzig between 2013 and 2015, said.
Rather than big-money transfers, the club have built their growth on steady squad-building and investment in high-class facilities.
Of the squad which takes on Bayern in Berlin, nine players have been with the club since they were in the second division and two of those, Yussuf Poulsen and Diego Demme, also played for Leipzig in the third tier.
This season, with a team built around star striker Timo Werner, they have lit up the Bundesliga, losing just two games in 2019 and securing third place behind Dortmund. With celebrated young coach Julian Nagelsmann set to take the reins as the club return to the Champions League next season, there is now much to look forward at the Red Bull Arena.
The journey to today’s cup final may have felt like a lifetime for Ralf Rangnick, but Leipzig’s rise to power may only be just beginning.
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