Freiburg 1-1 Leipzig (Leipzig win 4-2 on penalties)
(Eggestein 20′; Nkunku 76′)
As thousands of SC Freiburg supporters strolled up Reichsstraße towards Berlin’s Olympic Stadium, singing, drinking and letting off flares, one fan broke ranks to slap a sticker on a bus stop.
“A club doesn’t belong to one person,” read a quote, alongside an image of iconic Freiburg coach Christian Streich. “The club belongs to the members and the people who identify with it.”
It’s a concept which, in many places across the football world in 2022, is little more than lip-service. The fans tell themselves clubs are “theirs,” but they’re not really; they belong to wealthy businesspeople, investors or, nowadays, sovereign wealth funds.
But not in Germany, where the 50+1 rule still holds sway. And certainly not at SC Freiburg, a club owned entirely by its 35,000 members. It’s a tradition of members’ associations – or Vereine – which goes back to the 19th century, and which still underpins the entire culture of German football today.
Seismic shift in German football
That changed on Saturday night when RB Leipzig won the German Cup, their first major trophy. Because RB Leipzig doesn’t belong to its members; it belongs entirely to Red Bull. Its primary purpose isn’t to promote the sport of football for its democratically organized members; it is to promote Red Bull. Football is just the means.
Does that matter? After all, Domenico Tedesco‘s team of expensively assembled players play attractive, successful football – even when down to ten men in a cup final, as they did for over an hour on Saturday.
Why should anyone care? The 25,000 RB Leipzig fans, some of whom may have followed the team through thick (two previous cup final defeats and last month’s Europa League exit) and thin (the rest of the team’s 13-year existence), certainly don’t appear to.
“Mimimimimimi,” read one banner unveiled after Ermedin Demirovic’s decisive penalty had crashed off the bar to hand RB the cup. It’s the German equivalent of the childish “wah, wah, wah, stop crying” sentiment, and it appears to be the default response to criticism or rejection of the Red Bull model.
In the world of RB Leipzig, the mentality cultivated both by the club itself and by the uncritical local media which surround it, is a siege mentality. Criticism only ever comes from the outside, from the others, from the footballing establishment all conspiring to keep plucky little RB Leipzig down.
And it is only ever expressed by an extreme, intolerant, incorrigible minority – namely the ultras, such as those of SC Freiburg who, as the RB Leipzig players collected their winners’ medals and lifted the trophy, unveiled a huge banner reading simply: “Scheiss Red Bull.”
Nevermind the fact that those very same Freiburg ultras had also distributed flyers around the Olympic Stadium pre-match explaining at length and in detail precisely what their issues with Red Bull and RB Leipzig are: circumvention of regulations, prevention of participatory membership, multiple club ownership, financial doping and distortion of the competition, among other things.
“Mimimimimi, not listening, we’ve won the cup,” insinuated the banner. RB Leipzig’s official twitter account struck a similar tone, simply posting a row of “shushing” emojis.
A win over political correctness?
Still, football never exists in a vacuum, not even in Leipzig – a city in a region which has already proven fertile soil for the cultivation of that sort of mentality.
It’s no coincidence that Tino Chrupalla of the far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) party also took to Twitter to congratulate RB in a very particular way:
“Handball not punished, penalty not given,” he tweeted, referring to Roland Sallai’s unintentional use of his hand in the build-up to Freiburg’s opener and Dani Olmo’s extra-time penalty claim. “But Saxon fortitude and Austrian entrepreneurial spirit won out against political correctness.”
Just as the populist AfD has won support in Saxony and other regions of eastern Germany by telling voters that everyone else – the western German establishment, the elites, the media, the others up there, somewhere – are conspiring to keep them down, so RB Leipzig’s misfortune could be explained not by the decision of the video assistant referee, but by the imposition of some vague concept of an undesirable “political correctness,” whatever that means.
And so, logically, RB Leipzig’s eventual triumph could only be a result of some special, innate, unique steadfastness only found in the Free State of Saxony.
In reality, of course, RB Leipzig’s victory was due, on the night at least, to a team which managed to dig deep and stay in the game even when reduced to ten men and when Freiburg efforts were coming back of the post and the bar.
Over the course of this season, it was due to Domenico Tedesco, the impressive and articulate head coach who has revolutionized RB’s season since taking over in December.
When down to ten men, the obvious choice might have been to sit back and stick the big man up front to provide an outlet once or twice. But Tedesco took Andre Silva off, brought on Dominik Szoboszlai and later Dani Olmo, and moved Christopher Nkunku up front as RB played out the rest of the game without a recognized striker.
It would be grossly unfair to allow his achievement and that of his players to be tarnished by association with the unpleasant mentality cultivated by his superiors. A degree of differentiation and separation is necessary.
Ultimately, however, in the longer term, RB Leipzig’s first major trophy remains a direct result of the unfair advantages and rule breaking pointed out by the SC Freiburg ultras and countless others in the game.
Mimimimi. Then again, if fans of RB Leipzig don’t care, perhaps that Freiburg sticker on the bus stop contained more truth than its creator intended.
“The club belongs to the people who identify with it,” it said. Identify with it they clearly do. And there are reasons for that.
Edited by: James Thorogood
The post RB Leipzig’s first major trophy: The night that German football changed appeared first on Deutsche Welle.