Tuesday night, a rather discomforting notification popped up on my phone. The UEFA issued the following statement: Salzburg and Leipzig admitted into UEFA Champions League. The two clubs who are part of arguably the most hated owner in European Football are allowed to play in the elite league of UEFA: The Champions League. Feelings of discomfort, anger and sadness entered my mind and heart, and I just thought: Is modern football winning this battle?
We all know Red Bull from the energy drinks and in the beginning they have invested in extreme sports, being a brand that would find itself linked to skateboarding, BMX, motocross and everything that can be found at the X-games. However, in the past decade they have themselves more interested in other sports and in particular football. To understand how the UEFA got involved with integrity and ownership, it’s important to understand how it got there.
In my humble opinion, in the football world, one should never concentrate on one sponsor or company to carry the club. Even if it is one of the biggest multinationals in the world. The risk of those big companies leaving is ever present and imagine if they do leave, what safety net will they have? What will hold the club up and not let them go into decay, such as relegation or even worse, into administration? Things have gone south with clubs before and one of the most vivid memories of such an example is the state of Bayer Uerdingen in the past, now of course know as 5th tier club KFC Uerdingen. They did brilliant in Germany, Bayer Uerdingen. They played in the Bundesliga, won the DFB Pokal in 1985 and played in the Europa Cup II and UEFA Cup. In the Europa cup II they even managed to bag the semi finals where Atletico Madrid proved to be the better side after two games. At the time their name giver and most potent beneficiant was Bayer, a medical concern company. However, come 1996, they decided to withdraw their money and support from Uerdingen, and everything went downhill for the club. Eventually they were relegated so far down the football pyramid, that they played in the 6th tier. They have now been promoted again to the 4th tier, but things haven’t been easy for this sleeping giant.
Red Bull & Success
In 2005 Red Bull bought Austrian Bundesliga club SV Austria Salzburg, and this was met with great hostility by the Austrian fans. In one of the most traditional and passionate countries in western europe, they felt the identity of their football club would be completely lost by the money making machine that’s called Red Bull. And rightly so, because they changed everything about the club and if you only care about the results, it was pretty okay. Otherwise, you saw your club dying. It killed the working man’s game and they wouldn’t be the last club. New York Red Bull, Red Bull Brasil and ultimately RB Leizpig would follow. Concentrating on the continent of Europe is my main goal, because that’s what the thing is all about, the UEFA.
I suppose you would suspect some biased writing by now, and yes that is true. I suppose you could argue that if you look at the achievements and the way the teams perform on the pitch, it was a great way forward. If we look at Salzburg’s achievements since Red Bull took over, they are quite impressive: League (8x) Cup (4x), qualified for the CL (5x), qualified for UEFA Cup/Europa league (6x).
The rise of RB Leizpig, who can’t be named Red Bull Leipzig because of legal reasons in Germany, is of a different kind, but may achieve the same things Salzburg has done over the years. They had a slightly different path to success. They in the 5th tier of German football and got the license of SVV Markranstädt. Their goal was to reach the Bundesliga within 10 years after founding (2009) and that’s what they have achieved. Further more, they have qualified for the Champions League after the 2016/2017, after finishing second in the Bundesliga, just behind Bayern München.
(Against) Modern Football
While there are thousands of supporters who absolutely applaud the achievements of the club and how they have done it – with huge amounts of money -, there are also those fans who have seen their club being hijacked and abused by the likes of Red Bull. They are said to kill tradition and to have bought their way in the football club, and if you think about it, there’s so much truth in it. For example, what part of history does Red Bull Salzburg have? Does RB Leipzig have any history? What will the fans of Chemie and Lokomotiv Leipzig have to say about how the whole world is ignoring them now, because of the ‘mighty’ RB Leizpig? It’s the money that has entered the whole football world that has started to ruin the pureness, the raw feeling and the passion of football. Football clubs have become toys for rich oligarchs and sheiks, they are run like a business. But they forget, that football is so much more than just a business. It’s about heroes and tribes, loyalty and devotion, it’s our battle and our belief, our commitment and our passion, this our belief. football supporters are fans, not customers.
Because of their slightly controversial approach to football and football clubs in countries where football is regarded as one of the most important things in the world, RB Leizpig and Red Bull Salzburg have had significant problems with football associations both abroad and domestic. The first minor problems arose with the sudden overtaking of SV Austria Salzburg by Red Bull. They declared their history to be insignificant and changed the colours of violet to the colours of Red Bull. It ultimately leaded to the fact that the core of passionate fans, decided to distance themselves from Red Bull Salzburg and form their own club: SV Austria Salzburg. Many fan groups throughout europe supported the newly formed Austria Salzburg, but things did not for the situation with Red Bull Salzburg.
More problems developed with the involvement with Red Bull in Leipzig. They first had negotiations with an existing club, which failed ultimately because the DFB feared too much influence of the company on the football club. Eventually Red Bull decided to start their own football team, and then another problem came through: the name. They couldn’t name the team Red Bull because of legal reasons and they decided to call it RasenBallsport Leipzig, but everyone in their right mind knows it’s Red Bull. A second problem came with the promotion to the 2. Bundesliga. In Germany you have the 51% rule, which means that no investor or owner can have more than 49% of the shares of the football club and with Red Bull owning RB Leipzig completely, initially they failed to qualify for the license for the 2. Bundesliga. The DFB also stated that their clublogo looked to much after the logo of Red Bull itself. They needed to make changes to the logo and their official structure, before the DFB went ahead in allowing them to play in the 2. Bundesliga.
After the 2016/2017 season, RB Leipzig finished second in the Bundesliga, which means they will be automatically qualified for the group stages in the UEFA Champions League. Well at least everyone thought it would be that easy, the reality is a bit more complicated.
Red Bull & Champions League
No problems with Champions League so far, because only Salzburg qualified for the Champions League. Well that is until this season, because now Leipzig has qualified too. Which is a shit thing for one of the teams, because the rules clearly state that there can be only one team under one owner, playing in the Champions League. With Red Bull being owner of Salzburg and Leipzig, this would mean that only Salzburg would be qualified, because they had the highest position. This is in according with article 5 of the UEFA: the integrity of the competition.
But, last Tuesday the UEFA came with the following statement:
The Adjudicatory Chamber of the UEFA Club Financial Control Body (CFCB) has decided to accept the admission of both FC Salzburg and RB Leipzig to the UEFA Champions League 2017/18, having found that Article 5 (Integrity of the competition) of the competition regulations is not breached.
Following a thorough investigation, and further to several important governance and structural changes made by the clubs (regarding corporate matters, financing, personnel, sponsorship arrangements, etc.), the CFCB deemed that no individual or legal entity had anymore a decisive influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition.
This decision may be appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport within ten days, in accordance with Article 34(2) of the Procedural rules governing the UEFA Club Financial Control Body – Edition 2015, as well as Articles 62 and 63 of the UEFA Statutes.
The CFCB will continue to monitor both clubs to ensure that integrity rules are respected going forward.
The motivated and reasoned decision will be published on in due course.
The UEFA has ‘investigated’ that both clubs have different owners? Both clubs have struggled with all these procedures from the very beginning, and it’s clear that Red Bull owns both clubs, yet they are both admitted to the Champions League? The integrity of football is damaged because of these kind of clubs who invade countries and make it harder for hard working clubs without that kind of money, to qualify. So it seems like they will both play in the Champions League and I feel a bit sad for football now. Because I think that these kind of decisions open the door for more of these kind of clubs, and for me that’s the death of football as we know it.
Please let me know, what you think of the whole situation. I’m really interested in your opinion