On Saturday, the bullpen was opened. The gate is swinging on its hinges, and the beast which has rampaged through German football in the last few years is about to be set loose on Europe.
With a 4-0 victory over Freiburg, RB Leipzig secured their place in the Bundesliga top four and qualification for the Champions League. Six points from their last five games would be enough now to secure direct qualification.
It is just the latest development in Leipzig’s astronomical, Red Bull-financed rise. In 2013, the club were still in the fourth tier. In 2017, they will emerge on to Europe’s biggest stage.
RB Leipzig sealed a Champions League qualification place on Saturday afternoon
A 4-0 win over Freiburg ensured that RB Leipzig would finish in the Bundesliga top four
However, for their fans there is a possibility that they could be banned from European football
Or will they? For months now, a question mark has hung over Leipzig’s qualification for Europe. Questions over the role of their main sponsor Red Bull and their relationship with sister club Red Bull Salzburg have thrown the club’s compliance with UEFA rules into doubt.
In a worst-case scenario, Leipzig could be denied a licence to play in European competition, or be hit by sporting sanctions. UEFA’s lawmakers may yet succeed where RB’s Bundesliga rivals failed, and destroy their Champions League dream.
So how likely is that turn of events? And why are Leipzig in trouble in the first place? Sportsmail has the lowdown.
And that’s due to sister club RB Salzburg are closing in on Champions League qualification too
Why might Leipzig be banned from Europe?
The problem for RB is that they are effectively part of a footballing franchise. They are one of several clubs founded and constructed through investment from Red Bull. In next season’s Champions League, they could theoretically be pitted against their Austrian counterparts Red Bull Salzburg – who currently sit top of the Austrian Bundesliga and therefore would qualify for Europe too.
UEFA regulations, however, dictate that no two clubs which are effectively run by the same body or financed significantly by the same investor may compete in European competition at the same time.
Leipzig could face a scenario where they meet RB Salzburg in the Champions League
The regulations are there to prevent a situation where two clubs collude to ensure a particular result, and are laid out with various provisions in Article 5 of UEFA’s Regulations for the Champions League.
Article 5 states that if two clubs in such a situation both qualify for UEFA competition, only the one which has qualified for the Champions League may compete.
If both qualify for the Champions League – as Salzburg and Leipzig may do this year – then the club with the lower UEFA co-efficient ranking will not be allowed to compete. In the case of Salzburg and Leipzig, that would be the German side.
RB Salzburg played in the Europa League this season but were knocked out at the group stages
How likely is it that one Red Bull team would be banned?
At this stage, not very likely. As Bild reported last week, Salzburg’s rude financial health has probably saved Leipzig’s skin.
According to Article 5, no investor may hold ‘decisive influence’ over the running of a club. In financial terms, that reportedly translates as being responsible for 30 per cent or more of a club’s total income.
Leipzig spent £51million on transfers last summer, while Salzburg made a profit in the transfer market.
While Red Bull and its co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz is the main investor at both clubs, Salzburg’s financial strength means that they are less reliant on Red Bull than Leipzig, and are therefore under the crucial 30 per cent mark.
Oliver Burke (right) joined RB Leipzig in a £13million deal from Nottingham Forest last summer
So Leipzig will be in Europe next season?
The club hierarchy are certainly confident that they have fulfilled all criteria and will be allowed to compete in the Champions League.
‘We have done our homework and we are set up according to the rules,’ Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff told Kicker last week. He insisted that there was no mutual reliance between Salzburg and Leipzig.
‘Both clubs are completely free and independent when it comes to decision making,’ said Mintzlaff.
Leipzig CEO Oliver Mintzlaff insists there is no mutual reliance between them and Salzburg
Mintzlaff would certainly know about such things, having been Red Bull’s ‘Global Head of Soccer’, a role which oversees the football activities of all Red Bull affiliated clubs.
The 42-year-old quietly stepped down from that role this year, not long after questions started emerging about the UEFA regulations. He now works exclusively within RB Leipzig. Mintzlaff and the club have insisted that this decision had nothing to do with the Champions League question, but it was probably a sharp decision for Mintzlaff to surrender that role. After all, Article 5 states that ‘no one may simultaneously be involved, either directly or indirectly, in any capacity whatsoever in the management, administration and/or sporting performance of more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition’.
That may have been true of both Mintzlaff and Ralf Rangnick who until last year was sporting director at both Salzburg and Leipzig simultaneously.
Until last year, Ralf Rangnick was sporting director at Salzburg and Leipzig simultaneously
But now Leipzig have nothing more to worry about?
Not quite. While the question of a conflict of interest with Salzburg may appear to be cleared, Leipzig still have some problems regarding Financial Fair Play.
According to Financial Fair Play rules, a club’s outgoings may exceed its income by no more than £4.2m over a period of three years.
At Leipzig, that is a serious problem, as the club have spent nearly £85m on transfers over the last two seasons, and have made only several million pounds worth of sales.
While UEFA would allow investor Mateschitz to make up some of that deficit, there is an upper limit on just how much. As it stands, Leipzig would either have to be clever with presentation of figures or find an extra £25m-£34m of income away from Red Bull.
With another spending spree looming this summer to boost the squad for the Champions League, that may prove difficult. FFP sanctions would otherwise hit, and Leipzig may be forced to play with a reduced squad size in European competition.
Leipzig could face FFP sanctions after nearly spending £85m on deals over the last two terms