How Red Bull took flight in football

THE Red Bull football franchise is not popular among certain fan groups, and yet there are far worse activities going on in the game the masses should be worried about. The Austrian drinks company may not sit comfortably among other club ownership models, particular in Germany, where RB Leipzig have upset the 50+1 model, but they should not be roped into the same bracket as clubs that throw cash around signing big name players.

Karan Tejwani’s book, Wings of Change (Pitch Publishing, 2020), provides some insight into the Red Bull world. Anyone visiting Leipzig will be aware of the friction between the followers of traditional clubs like Lokomotive and Chemie and RB, but it is hard not to be impressed by a club that has brought Bundesliga football to the eastern part of Germany once more. Advocates of the 50+1 system have a legitimate point, but the German Bundesliga is somewhat dysfunctional in that Bayern Munich have won the title for nine consecutive seasons.

However, new kids on the block are never welcomed in any walk of life, especially if there is money behind their surge to prominence. What Tejwani’s book reveals, or at least confirms, is that Red Bull’s move into football has a strategy, a long-term approach and has been carefully formulated to cover most bases. In other words, it is about player production and shrewd transfer activity. It’s important to remember, though, the Red Bull clubs have benefitted enormously from the financial backing of Dietrich Mateschitz’s energy drinks company.

The system created by Red Bull has produced a cadre of football coaches and technicians that are influencing European football. For example, Manchester United’s current interim coach, Ralf Rangnick, was director of football at Leipzig and then went on to coach the club. He has left a mark a number of managers around Europe, such as Jesse Marsch (Leeds), Julian Nagelsmann (Bayern), Thomas Tuchel (Chelsea), Marco Rose (Dortmund), Ralph Hassenhüttl (Southampton) and Jürgen Klopp (Liverpool). What’s more, Red Bull clubs have produced or nurtured coaches like Niko Kovač, Oliver Glasner, Adi Hutter and Achim Beierlorzer.

The Red Bull football empire is like a multinational company and that’s why they are so unpopular, even though other German clubs, such as Bayer and Wolfsburg have corporate backing, and three of Bayern’s shareholders are Adidas, Allianz and Audi, all giants of Deutschland AG. Critics would say Leipzig and Salzburg do not operate in the spirit of the environment in which they operate.

This book may not give you the inside track (that is another book to be written at some point), but it does explain why the likes of Leipzig and Salzburg have been so successful, and it is not purely down to money, although hard currency does give you options in life. In a football world where the elite are steam-rollering the rest, the Red Bull project provides an alternative, even if some would claim Leipzig are just a trophy or two away from joining the top bracket. There’s much to admire, but you sense that RB Leipzig will never be accepted in Germany as one of the gang. A worthwhile read and one that can be absorbed fairly quickly.

Football Read Review: Richer than God by David Conn

A BELATED review, perhaps, but this fine book by one of the best football writers around deserves reassessment. With Manchester City now, indeed, richer than most sporting entities on the planet, David Conn’s take on the rise of the club he’s supported since childhood is interesting.

You get the feeling that Conn has a personal battle over his City. He’s a man who cares about the place he comes from, weeps for its decline, but he follows a club that has become the epitome of the modern elitist football institution. Like many fans, he loves the success, but questions the moral aspect of an absent owner from a different part of the world buying a football club as an asset class.

That aside, Conn’s City story, while similar in some ways to other fan stories, is more balanced and objective than almost every attempt at describing the bilateral relationship between fan and club. He wasn’t around when City won the league in 1968, but he suffered, like all Maine Road regulars, as successive regimes made a cock-up of the club, making it one of the great under-achievers in the football world. 

City, in the late 1970s through to the pre-Abu Dhabi period, seemed like a mess, which allied to the success at Old Trafford in the 1990s and 2000s, must have made life unbearable for City die-hards.

Refreshingly, though, there’s very little rival hate in the book, something which taints many fan-written books, but then Conn is one of the most respected journalists around, as evidenced by his alignment to the families of Hillsborough victims.

This is an outstanding book, one that should be a blueprint for anyone wanting to write about their club. Very few fan relationships are different – they are often a tale of over-expectation, irrational behaviour, failure to prioritise what’s really important in life and a lack of understanding of how clubs are run. Conn, admittedly an informed professional, avoids that well-worn path. However, having ended at 2012, this story has another chapter and Conn’s interpretation of the City era will be worth reading. We await “Still richer than God”.

Richer than God by David Conn is published by Quercus

@GameofthePeople