Cultures clash as Freiburg plays Leipzig in German Cup final
BERLIN (AP) — Cultures and ideologies will clash Saturday when fan-run Freiburg plays Red Bull-backed Leipzig in the German Cup final.
Build-up has been dominated by a dispute over marketing rights, with Freiburg refusing to allow its crest or logos to be used for any joint commemorative merchandise with its opponent ahead of the soccer match.
Leipzig general manager Oliver Mintzlaff accused Freiburg of a “lack of respect,” leading to a rebuff from Freiburg financial chief Oliver Leki, who said he was “irritated” by the reaction.
Leki said there must be a bond between the clubs and a high acceptance among fans for any joint merchandise.
“If that’s not the case, then we don’t do it. We said it already quite clearly seven weeks ago that we didn’t want to do it,” said Leki, who added it had “absolutely nothing to do with a lack of respect.”
Freiburg’s own supporters would disagree. Freiburg fans, like most in Germany, oppose Leipzig because they see it as a marketing exercise for energy drink company Red Bull.
The club was only founded in May 2009 when Red Bull co-founder Dietrich Mateschitz, a 78-year-old Austrian billionaire, bought a local fifth-tier team, SSV Markranstaedt, and rebranded it with his company’s livery under the new name RasenBallsport Leipzig e.V.
It was prohibited from being called Red Bull Leipzig under German soccer federation rules, so the new name was created from the German words for grass, ball and sport to at least have the RB initials in its name.
Red Bull then financed the new team’s steady promotion through the lower leagues up the Bundesliga in 2016.
It also benefitted from state support. Leipzig’s stadium, formerly the Zentralstadion, was rebranded the Red Bull Arena in 2010 after it had been modernized for the 2006 World Cup. The club agreed to buy it in 2016.
“RB symbolizes the sick system of professional soccer,” Freiburg fan group Corrillo Ultras said in a statement on Wednesday. “Economic interests are increasingly overshadowing what we all love about soccer and going to the stadium.”
The group called for reforms, including the strict implementation of Germany’s 50-plus-1 rule, which limits the influence of outside investors on its soccer clubs, the end of what it called “financial doping,” and limits on the numbers of clubs run by companies to ensure fair competition.
Red Bull also has franchises elsewhere: Red Bull Salzburg in the Austrian league, New York Red Bulls in the United States and Red Bull Brasil.
The Corrillo Ultras appealed to their own club’s fans to become members to help fight for the values of an equal and open sport that’s accessible to all.
“It’s possible here,” the Freiburg supporters said. “Every vote is worth the same here. They are heard at the members’ general meeting. This is soccer as it should be.”
Saturday’s final will be Freiburg coach Christian Streich’s 31st game in the German Cup since he took over the senior team on Dec. 29, 2011.
Leipzig is playing its 32nd game in the competition after losing finals to Borussia Dortmund last year and Bayern Munich in 2019.
Streich took charge of Freiburg’s under-19 team in 1995 after his playing career ended because of injury. He led it to Under-19 German Cup finals in 2006, 2009 and 2011, winning all three. Christian Günter, Nicolas Höfler and Jonathan Schmid were among his players and will hope to lead the senior team to its first title.
“That’s something very special,” Streich said, “in this fast-moving world of soccer.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Ciarán Fahey on Twitter: https://twitter.com/cfaheyAP