Soaring despite the hate


Players of RB Leipzig celebrate scoring during the German first division Bundesliga football match between RB Leipzig and Schalke 04 in Leipzig, eastern Germany on Dec 3, 2016. - AFP

IT is not normal for a club side, that's only seven years old, to be topping the Bundesliga.

And despite being labelled "the most hated club in Germany", RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V or RB Leipzig's Cinderella story continues to captivate the world of football.

Leipzig - who are bankrolled by energy drinks company Red Bull - have earned four promotions since their birth in 2009.

I might be hated in Germany for saying this but I'm in love with this side.

I've been to Germany and I've got to say, the fans there love their football and also … hate this club!

Three months ago, I had the privilege of watching the pride of Prussia Borussia Dortmund play against Darmstadt and every moment in that match, gave me goose bumps.

From the fans' rendition of "You'll Never Walk Alone" to their almost perfect display on the pitch, Borussia Dortmund is the perfect example of a club loved by many.

On the flip side of the coin is RB Leipzig.

Fans of rival sides have made no secret of their disdain for a team who, while theoretically doesn't break the "50+1" rule in German football that gives members (in this case, fans) of football clubs a say in the running of their club. However, the manner in which the club is operated certainly goes against the rule's spirit.

Although it's possible to become a member RB Leipzig, the membership fee is exorbitantly expensive and the club reserves the right to reject any application without a reason.

They say fans make the game but in Leipzig's case, money is making them tick and progress. As a result, the club only has a few of members, most of whom are Red Bull GmbH employees.

There have been numerous protests against the club and the hate is real.

In their first Bundesliga home game, a 1-0 victory over Borussia Dortmund, their opponents' ultras passed up the opportunity to visit the club's Red Bull Arena and instead stayed at home to support the under-23s in a fourth division match.

Prior to that, Bundesliga 2 side Dynamo Dresden were fined after one of their fans threw a bull's head in the direction of the pitch during a cup match in August.

For me, however, seeing a team rely on youth instead of experience is refreshing. And for all their wealth, Leipzig's policy which focuses on youth and the development of young players is laudable.

Their current squad has an average age of just 23 and this includes club record signing Oliver Burke, 19.

Scotland international Burke isn't the only young talent in this squad.

There's 21-year-old Guinean midfielder Naby Keita as well. In addition, Timo Werner, 20, who couldn't shine at VfB Stuttgart is beginning to live up to his promise by banging in the goals and causing problem for defenders with his pace.

Denmark international Youssuf Poulsen's, 22, understanding with Werner and fellow Scandinavian teammate Emil Forsberg, 25, has been a joy to watch. If you want to play a quick counter-attack, you can count on these three to punish teams.

Former German U-21 international Willi Orban, 24, is the captain of this side and he is the mainstay in a defence that has been usually rotated by Austrian manager Andreas Hasenhuttl.

Rotated defences normally are shaky but in Leipzig's case, they've only conceded 12 goals in 13 matches. Hungarian goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi, 26, has rediscovered his confidence with this young club after not-so-fond spells with Liverpool, Hereford United, Hull City and Tranmere Rovers.

It's hard to disagree that Leipzig's sporting director Ralf Rangnick and Ralph Hasenhuttl are the right people to mould these players into world beaters.

A former manager of Stuttgart, Hannover 96, Hoffenheim and Schalke, Rangnick is an inventive tactician and known as the man behind the feverish pressing game that has since become the trademark of German coaches such as Liverpool's Jurgen Klopp and Borussia Dortmund's Thomas Tuchel.

Rangnick steered Leipzig into the Bundesliga last season before becoming the club's sporting director and handing the reins to Hasenhuttl, who unsurprisingly has been nicknamed the "Alpine Klopp".

Just like Klopp, Hasenhuttl is quite the showman but his exaggerated behaviour on the touchline contradicts an insightful football brain and his reputation as a leading motivator.

With their wealth, you would expect them to spend big on star players but under Ragnick's guidance, the team's policy of signing highly talented youngsters is beginning to pay dividends.

Ragnick recently said that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo wouldn't work at the Bundesliga leaders due to their age. That's quite a bold statement but I guess he has every right to say it as his team are at the top of the Bundesliga and together with Hoffenheim are the only sides unbeaten after 13 games.

Leipzig are by no means the first team to brazenly buy their way to the top and are far from distinctive even in Germany, where Wolfsburg, Bayer Leverkusen and Hoffenheim enjoy corporate backing too.

However, despite the justified moaning of their detractors, it is probably only a matter of time before Leipzig are accepted by the German fans.

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