ZURICH, Dec 4 (Reuters) - Bayern Munich are generally regarded as the German team which rival fans most love to hate as envy of their success is mixed with a reputation for luck, perceived aloofness and habit of poaching top players from their competitors.
Recently, however, Bayern have found themselves in danger of being upstaged as pantomime villains by a second division team from eastern Germany.
RB Leipzig have become used to getting a hostile reception this season.
When they visited Union Berlin in September, the home supporters protested by watching the first 15 minutes in complete silence and displaying slogans such as “in Leipzig, our football culture is dying.”
Leipzig have climbed from the fifth tier in 2009 to the second tier this term after winning promotion three times in five seasons.
But critics say that their meteoric rise has been thanks mainly to the cash injected by Austrian-based energy drink manufacturer Red Bull since they bought the licence of SSV Maerkenstadt in 2009.
Leipzig are an example of what German fans have come to term a “plastic club”, one which has no genuine base and owes its existence to financial support from wealthy backers.
Even their name has caused controversy. Banned from naming the club Red Bull Leipzig by the German league, they circumvented that rule by inventing the name RasenBallsport, literally Lawn Ball Sports, in front of Leipzig, and then abbreviating it to RB.
Though legal, critics said the manoeuvre was not in the spirit of the rules.
Currently seventh in the second division, there is a possibility that they could reach the Bundesliga next season, giving them a chance to ruffle even more feathers.
Sports director Ralf Rangnick, however, said there was more to Leipzig than the money and points out that attendances have been mushrooming.
“Last season, the average attendance was around 2,000, now it is 30,000 so the development has been amazing,” he said during a presentation at the International Football Arena (IFA) conference in Zurich.
“Recently, we had 600 fans travel five hours by coach to an away game.”
The former Hoffenheim and Schalke 04 coach said that the new team had been welcomed in the city after Lokomotiv, one of its two traditional clubs, dropped to the fourth tier while the other, Sachsen Leipzig, were wound up in 2011.
“The team has not only been accepted, but players that nobody knew about are pretty well known in Germany,” he said.
“People acknowledge the way we play and the way the team works together.”
Rangnick, who holds the same position with Austrian champions Salzburg, another Red Bull-backed outfit, said that both clubs had adopted the same policy of signing young players, and played a similar a high-tempo, pressing game.
“The difference between us and other clubs is that when we scout for new players, we are fishing in a very small pond,” he said.
“We only sign players who are between 17 and 23. Players are starting and ending their careers earlier than 10 or 15 years ago.
“The average age of the first team is around 24 and 25, so we have reduced the average age by four years over the last two years.
“We are the only club in the second division who didn’t sign a single player from another second division club,” he added.
Rangnick recognised that Leipzig were not popular elsewhere but that was down to a misunderstanding of their methods as much as anything else.
“They don’t like us, but that’s partly fear that we might take away one of their (Bundesliga) places,” he said.
“The media and other sports directors and other coaches recognise we do it differently but the supporters outside Leipzig don’t like us and try to reduce it to a case of us having more money than the others.
“But the question is how we use the money. We invest the available money in the staff, trying to get the best possible people to work with the players, giving them highly talented players who they develop into top class players.”
There was one other thing which made his teams stand out, he said. “In two-and-a-half years, we haven’t sacked a single coach.” (editing by Justin Palmer)