RedBull´s Football Empire
RedBull Bragantino just got promoted to Brazil´s Série A. RedBull now own four teams, who play in their domestic top flight in Austria, Germany, Brazil and the USA. Since the takeover of SV Austria Salzburg in 2005, the football empire of the energy drink company has been growing rapidly, causing controversy, developing some of the most sought-after talents in Europe and creating an exciting style of football. RedBull already established themselves in Formula 1, Ice Hockey and a variety of extreme sports and are now gaining a foothold in the most popular sport in the world. RB Leipzig made it all the way to the Champions League Semifinals and players like Timo Werner, Naby Keïta and Erling Haaland joined the European elite from RedBull clubs. But how did this come about?
RedBull founder Dietrich Mateschitz bought his first-ever club in his home country Austria, precisely Salzburg in 2005. Instead of founding a new club, Mateschitz took a shortcut and bought a club with a rich history that was already established in the Austrian top flight - SV Austria Salzburg. What followed was a total rebrand of one of the most historic clubs in the country. The name was changed to RedBull Salzburg, the iconic club colours of purple and white were replaced by red and white and the new badge was almost unrecognizable. The fans disapproved of what RedBull was doing to their beloved club and protested against the new regime of no avail. The core fanbase reestablished Austria Salzburg in Austria´s lowest division, similar to FC United of Manchester and AFC Wimbledon in the United Kingdom. RedBull Salzburg, however, weren´t going to let faith decide over anything and spent over €10 million in the first transfer window, €4 million of them on a single player - unheard-of in the Austrian Bundesliga. No team had ever spent anything close to that amount. Additionally, Champions League-winning coach Giovanni Trapattoni was hired to manage the most expensive squad in the league. The ruthless spending of Salzburg is continuing to this day - the 10 most expensive transfers ever in the Austrian Bundesliga have all been made by the RedBull club, even more absurd, out of the most expensive 50 transfers only 14 didn´t land in Salzburg. After years of immense expenses, RedBull decided to focus on youth - developing youngsters rather than buying ready-made players in their prime. In 2012 RedBull acquired Austrian lower league side FC Liefering to replace Salzburg´s youth team in the league pyramid and act as a feeder club for the first team. Players like Dayot Upamecano and Dominik Szoboszlai both represented Liefering as teenagers before joining the main roster.
New York, USA
In 2006, only one year after the company´s first involvement in football, RedBull acquired the New York Metro Stars, an MLS-franchise. Unsurprisingly, the new board had plans to rebrand the MLS club as well and just like that the New York Red Bulls were formed. The majority of the Metro Stars´ fanbase was hardly enthusiastic about the takeover. Once again, fans felt like RedBull was taking their identity away from them. One could argue that as an Austrian brand, investing in a local football club in Salzburg made sense, but RedBull had nothing to do with New York. Just like in Austria, heavy investments were made - players like Tim Cahill and Thierry Henry joined the Red Bulls. However, since the takeover, the club has never won the MLS Cup and after a lack of success on the pitch and another club purchase, the Red Bulls also mainly focused on youth development.
The most important, successful and also controversial takeover in RedBull´s football history is that of SSV Markranstädt in 2009. Hold on, who? The club from Saxony was playing in Germany´s 5th tier when RedBull took over and once again changed everything to fit the company´s theme, apart from the name. For some reason, this time the new club name was "RasenBallsport Leipzig", which translates to "Grass Ball Sport Leipzig". But why didn´t they go for RedBull Leipzig? Well, in Austria and the USA having a brand in the club´s name for sponsoring reasons is legal. However, in Germany, it isn´t due to the "50+1 rule". To avoid breaking any regulations but still having a name that could be shortened to RB Leipzig - with the "RB" being short for RedBull, obviously - the company chose this uncommon name. After the takeover, the club rose up the leagues and went all the way to the Bundesliga. In their first season ever in Germany´s top tier in 2016/17, they finished runners-up being only second to Bayern Munich and in turn qualified for the Champions League Group Stages.
So after knowing what RedBull´s system looks like, how does it work? First and foremost, let´s look at their style of play. Every RedBull team will play a very similar brand of football - "Gegenpressing" or counter-press. Relentless and aggressive in the press, Leipzig, Salzburg and even Liefering give their opposition no time to think and no to room to breathe, always intending to win the ball back as fast and as high up the pitch as possible and relying on fast vertical play with explosive runs from their attacking players. In the German-speaking football community, this modern style of play is known as "RB-Fußball" - "RB football". Youth players in the RedBull empire learn how to play in this system from a very young age in order to function for every single one of their clubs - in the Alps as well as the Big Apple. Ideally, a young Brazilian could play for RedBull Bragantino in Brazil, move to Liefering to acclimatize to European first-team football and get some experience until he´s deemed good enough for Salzburg. When he eventually outgrows the Austrian league, he can make the big move to Germany to represent Leipzig and spend his prime challenging for the Champions League and becoming a superstar. When his career eventually comes to an end, he might play for the RedBulls, live in New York and enjoy his retirement. Brighton defender Bernardo, for example, started his RedBull-career in Brasil for Bragantino, moved to Salzburg and then to Leipzig, before getting a move to the Premier League. By implementing an excellent scouting system, they discovered some of the world´s most talented players - Sadio Mané, Naby Keïta, Erling Haaland, Timo Werner, Dayot Upamecano, Marcel Sabitzer and Dominik Szoboszlai just to mention a few.
Not every football fan is enjoying RedBulls involvement in the beautiful game. The company openly admits that their football clubs exist solely for marketing purposes, to sell more cans of RedBull and to make the brand less reliant on their main product - a kick in the teeth for passionate fans who value football culture and tradition and are critical of the commercialization of football. Pair that with financial advantages and players constantly moving from Salzburg to Leipzig and vice versa for questionable fees and you might get an idea of why many RedBull clubs cause a lot of controversy in the football community. Leipzig for example have received more players from Salzburg than from their own youth teams. Whatever you might think of RedBull´s empire and how they are approaching the business of football, they are doing exceptionally well and they came to stay.