New Allegiances

If you know me, you’ll know that Manchester United has been the only club that I have ever been fully dedicated to. Without any way to watch any soccer on TV as a kid, my mom bought me the most popular “Season Review” dvd’s on Amazon. They just happened to be for Liverpool, Arsenal and Manchester United. I had very different reactions to each, as Liverpool was generally uninspiring, I didnt feel much when I experienced their play style, with Arsenal I was drawn to for my love of childhood hero Thierry Henry, but with United, I fell in love with the spirit of their play and the power of Sir Alex. That was where it all started for me.

But now it is time to take another step forward. Manchester United will always be my #1, but I want to start spreading my interest and fanaticism to some new clubs as well. This search took me quite a while, of course I had to go outside of England. Finding clubs whose philosophy I agreed with, and playing style I can enjoy and appreciate. I wanted to stay away from Spain. I think it will be decades before someone other than Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid or Barcelona are truly competitive there, and I like being able to watch those titanic clashes with nothing but enjoyment for the spectacle and beautiful football. The same goes for Italy, where clubs aren’t getting the financial backing they need to really compete with Juventus on a yearly basis, and the ones that do only spend that money on big name players who aren’t right for their system(looking at you Inter!). This took me to Germany, where currently, “The Most Hated Team in Germany”, a team that was playing in the 5th division just 7 years ago, is tied with Bayern Munich on points at the top of the Bundesliga. RasenBallsport Leipzig, otherwise known as RB Leipzig, the RB also stands for Red Bull but the DFB wouldn’t allow the brand name into the team name, so they went with RasenBallsport for the initials.

This isn’t a team I have chosen because of where they are in the table, but thier surprising place on the table certainly caught my attention and made me look into the club, what they’ve been doing in the past few years to cause their meteoric rise. This inquiry really came at an opportune time, as I am just finishing the book Das Reboot: How German Soccer Reinvented Itself and Conquered the World, which opened my eyes to the genius of maybe the most important figure in Germany’s rise to footballing domination in the past decade, Ralf Rangnick.

And when looking into RB Leipzig’s rise, this is the main responsible for bringing them to the top. Along with help from the excellent youth coach Thomas Albeck, he has built a powerhouse based on youth. A pioneer of the tactical style Gegenpressing, he was dedicated to finding and developing young talent physically able to keep up the energy this tactic demands. A tactic most recognizable as what Jurgen Klopp brought to BVB Dortmund, and then Liverpool, and is also used by Pep Guardiola.

This is what drew me into the club. An extreme dedication to developing youth talent, dedicated to the point that, as the Sporting Director of the club, he set a mandate that the club wouldn’t buy any players over the age of 25. Aggressive, effective and exciting tactics, tactics that have elsewhere in Germany made previously weak Dortmund into a perennial challenger for the Champions League title. And ambition. Red Bull has taken this project much more seriously that their other football clubs. New York Red Bull, Red Bull Salzburg, Red Bull Brasil, etc. They took the success of this club very seriously and invested heavily where it mattered. They didn’t go the route of Manchester City, where they got bought, then started spending $200m a year on stars to lift the club to the next level, and then in retrospect, built new academies and training centers. By the time RB Leipzig got to the Bundesliga, they already had some of the best facilities in Germany, and a young relatively unknown roster, other than a smaller household name in Timo Werner.

Germany hates this team because they got to this level of success without the two most respected tenants of German football, history and majority fan ownership. This is has two vantage points for me, for starters every club must start somewhere, are we going to look back a hundred years from now and gripe that they’re only 100 years old, rather than 200 like Bayern? I doubt it. And majority fan ownership, I think this concept holds smaller clubs back. It’s all well and good when you’re a club like Bayern, where real change is never REALLY needed at the executive level, because they don’t really have anywhere else to ascend to. Leipzig has seen a lot of turnover, and tough decisions being made on their way to where they are, decisions that could’ve been harshly affected by having to seek fan approval.

On the other side of the world though, is where I must finally plant a flag of fanship. Here in the United States. I am beginning to really invest time and resources into the MLS, and honestly hope to someday work in the league. So I have spent the past month looking far and wide across the leagues, seeing how they played leading up to, and throughout the playoffs, and how they are handling the offseason, to get a better idea of their ambitions, styles, and philosphies. I took very hard looks at Minnesota United FC and Atlanta United, and while I Atlanta especially is setting up to do really well with Martino at the helm, his style was never one that I loved watching. So I have settled on FC Dallas, which ironically, has a bull in their logo as well.

They caught my eye because, like RB Leipzig, they are betting their future on youth development, at a time when many other clubs in the MLS are simply trying to build the best roster they can for this season, and bring in the biggest names into their DP roster slots. Their Technical Director Fernando Clavijo has a wealth of playing and coaching experience, both in the US and internationally. And he has bought into what FC Dallas as trying to do. While for my taste their tactics and training could use some changes, so could every other club in the MLS.

They are focuing on signing exciting, talented, young players as their DP players, all of them aged 25 or younger, and none of them really recognizable names outside of the MLS and their home countries. While they also only have 7 players over the age of 26. They have a very talented and skillful roster, with only 1 international slot NOT belonging to a player from Central or South America. I believe that they have a very bright future ahead as a club. They might not be competing for championships this season or next, but they are building a great foundation for long-term success both competitively and financially, which could make them a powerhouse the more MLS opens up their financial restrictions.

So that is where I am now, I have made my commitment to supporting two new clubs, one German, one American. My fanship now spread across Manchester United, RasenBallensport Leipzig, and FC Dallas. Now, the challenge of trying to find ways to be able to watch every league and tournament game these 3 teams play…another problem for another day I suppose.

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