Hated by fans, Leipzig and Hoffenheim are the future of German football

Steven Zuber Naby Keita Hoffenheim RB Leipzig 28012017Getty


For most supporters, eight years is a long time in football. Clubs get relegated, promoted, win titles and cups, sign new players, change managers, and everything else that keeps fans delighted, disillusioned and entertained. In Germany, eight years is not long enough.

Back in 2009, RB Leipzig was founded after energy drink giants Red Bull purchased the rights of then fifth division SSV Markranstadt, giving it a new title containing the initials of its owner. Just eight years later, Leipzig are not only in the Bundesliga, both have also qualified for the Champions League for the first time in their history.

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That eight year history is part of the reason the team are so hated in Germany. Football supporters may dislike perennial champions Bayern Munich, but have a grudging respect for the team that gave the world Gerd Muller, Franz Beckenbauer and Philipp Lahm. While Bayern have a history, Leipzig is a business venture.

Similarly, the 2017-18 Champions League will see another new name in the draw. For the first time in their history, Hoffenheim are competing in Europe, having played in the ninth tier as recently as 1997. Unlike Leipzig, TSG 1899 Hoffenheim can trace their roots back two centuries, but only really became a player in German football when SAP co-founder Dietmar Hopp starting using some of his billions to improve the club.

Hoffenheim is a village of just over 3,000 inhabitants in south-west Germany, and this is looked at with derision by fans across Germany due to their inability to have any true local support. Both Leipzig and Hoffenheim are hated because of their lack of history, their lack of traditional support, and their billionaire backers.

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From the outset, Leipzig were targeted by opposition fans. Shortly after their creation, the club's pitch was destroyed by deliquents with weed killers. Teams refused to play friendly matches against them, with Union Berlin performing a u-turn due to fan pressure. Numerous stunts portraying the team as Nazis, criticising them for buying success, while Ingolstadt fans displayed a banner calling coach Ralph Hassenhuttl "a whore of modern football" after learning their manager was leaving them for Leipzig.

Hoffenheim have long been the victim of abuse from rival fans, who feel the club were taking a place in the Bundesliga from a more traditional team. The abuse got to the extent that Hopp asked the German football association, the DFB to intervene and treat the incidents on a par with racism.

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However, with both teams' qualification for the Champions League, there is hope that they can now be better accepted and accommodated by rival teams and rival fans.

"Something new is often rejected at first," Leipzig midfielder Rani Khedira told Goal. "We will continue our journey and I also think that more and more people will respect our work. In addition, it is a not normal that that we are not given a warm welcome in our away games."

GFX Rani Khedira RB Leipzig progress quoteGoal

Both clubs have made inroads in their local areas, with the east German city of Leipzig embracing their Bundesliga contenders. People in the regions are seeing what success is bringing to the areas, while Hopp has not only reinvigorated football in the Rhine-Neckar region, but has also given millions to local charities to improve the area as a whole. Success has bred unrest and jealousy from fans of other clubs, but in their local regions, the players are heroes.

"What I am experiencing here, this enthusiasm, an average of 30,000 people in the stadium and a whole region, which is a part of us, is terrific," Leipzig defender Marvin Compper told Goal. "There can be no question of the lack of fan culture at all. There really is something here. RB Leipzig is definitely a club of the future."

That building for the future is also part of the reason the areas have warmly embraced these new clubs. It is why a village of 3,300 (and a neighbouring town of 35,000) can usually sell out a 30,150 seater stadium for Hoffenheim's home games.

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Both Hoffenheim and Leipzig are focused on developing local talent and nurturing young players. These young players are not only the future of the clubs themselves, but also of the Germany international team. Since August, both Leipzig forward Timo Werner and Hoffenheim defender Niklas Sule have been called up by Joachim Low and made their international debuts. Sule's form has also seen him earn a move to Bayern Munich, and he will join in the summer after developing under the Bundesliga's youngest ever manager, Julian Nagelsmann.

"I came to TSG Hoffenheim at 15. Everything I can do on my way to becoming a professional footballer, I have participated in here," Sule told Goal before his move to Bayern. "So I can serve young players as a role model and show them that I once started where they are now, and play in the Bundesliga today. Of course that makes me proud. I've worked hard to get there. But my development is far from being completed."

Hoffenheim have not just created one academy for their younger players, but thanks to Hopp's backing, have three different centres which cover varying age groups and provide their students with the best footballing education possible. The academy is rated with the full three stars by the Deutsche Fussball Liga, and was where Nagelsmann cut his teeth at Under-17 and U-19 levels before being appointed head coach.

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Leipzig's approach to youth development is also a crucial part of their approach. They have appointed the best in order to get the best from their young players. Frieder Schrof is the current chief of Leipzig's youth academy, and he knows exactly how to make stars, having brought through Sami Khedira, Mario Gomez and Kevin Kuranyi at previous club Stuttgart.

"In the long term, we want to ensure top-level training in the next generation and bring as many self-trained players as possible into the professional area," Schrof told Goal. "Even if everyone is not able to make it to the top, we want to ensure that our talents are very well educated, both football and school, so that they can master the path to football or professional life in the best possible way."

German football fans have not yet been won over by Leipzig or Hoffenheim just yet, but they better get used to watching both clubs a lot more. With their emphasis on youth, they are bound to be dining at Europe's top table for the foreseeable future, while the Germany international team will no doubt feature more and more players from both clubs.

Like it or not, Leipzig and Hoffenheim are here to stay.