East German football gets the kick it needs

Tiny club chosen by drinks giant Red Bull to take on dominance of the west

Tony Paterson
Sunday 23 October 2011 04:57

The drab, once communist eastern town is a nonentity in the German football world, its team seemingly welded to the country's fifth division. However Markranstädt is preparing for a radical upturn in its fortunes thanks to the soft drinks giant Red Bull and a huge cash injection.

The Austrian firm has announced plans to bankroll the club with an estimated €100m (£86m) investment over the next decade. Its aim is to catapult the side into Germany's premier league, the Bundesliga, by 2017 and lift east German football out of the doldrums where it has been stuck for almost two decades. Last season the only east German club in the Bundesliga, Energie Cottbus, was relegated; the rest are rich west German clubs.

"It is great news," SSV Markran-städt's business manager Micheal Unvericht, said yesterday. "Since the reunification, the east has been a complete desert as far as soccer is concerned. This is a chance to change all that." Under the deal, the club will form the nucleus of a new side RB Leipzig – echoing the initials of the drinks concern. Players will wear the same red and white Red Bull jerseys worn by the company's other clubs, the American New York Red Bulls and Austrian team, FC Red Bull Salzburg.

Not all of the local fans are happy about the plan. News of the takeover led to Red Bull's adverts being torn and smeared with graffiti at Markranstädt's small stadium last week. The pitch was also damaged with weed killer. The club said the attack on the premises appeared to have been a one-off, and a recent survey by a local newspaper found 70 per cent of the local population welcomed the company's involvement.

Red Bull has made no effort to hide the fact that the deal is an attempt to emulate the small west German town of Hoffenheim near Frankfurt. Its club, 1899 Hoffenheim, has shot into the German first division after receiving huge amounts of cash to spend on new players from multimillionaire businessman Dietmar Hopp.

Red Bull spent three years searching for a club that could be used to breathe new sporting life into the eastern half of the country. Markranstädt was chosen because of its proximity to the traditional football stronghold of Leipzig and because of the city's elaborate "World Cup stadium" that was redeveloped for the 2006 tournament which Germany hosted.

Most observers say the club has been made an offer it couldn't refuse. Matthias Gärtner, a spokesman for Germany's Fan Alliance, described the town as, "football loving but at rock bottom". He added: "The devil himself could show up and if he happened to have a few million in his pocket, he'd be welcomed with open arms."

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