Christopher Nkunku is the main man at RB Leipzig, having developed into a senior France international at the club. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images
Christopher Nkunku is the main man at RB Leipzig, having developed into a senior France international at the club. - © Lukas Schulze/Bundesliga/Bundesliga Collection via Getty Images

From the fifth division to the UEFA Champions League semi-finals in 11 years: the history of RB Leipzig


With RB Leipzig now UEFA Champions League regulars, it almost beggars belief that the Bundesliga club was only founded in 2009. narrates the history of the world's most successful modern footballing start-up…

19 May 2009 – RB Leipzig formed

Austrian soft drinks giant Red Bull had major plans for investment in German football, and struggling Oberliga (fifth-division) club SSV Markranstädt, situated just to the west of the city of Leipzig, represented an ideal opportunity for its entrance. A new club – named RasenBallsport Leipzig, literally the rather unweildy 'lawn ball sport Leipzig' in English – was officially formed on 19 May 2009. In order for the acquisition to be ratified, the state of Saxony's football association stipulated that the new club must incorporate Markranstädt's first team, reserves, oldest youth team, their senior selection and the four most senior teams of the insolvent FC Sachsen Leipzig youth academy.

RB Leipzig were established when the newly formed club obtained the licence of SSV Markranstädt in 2009. - Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images

Only by affirming their commitment to the growth of football in the area, from youth to senior level, could the new club be sanctioned. On 13 June 2009, their licence to play in the Oberliga Nordost was officially transferred, and a new chapter in the history of German football commenced.

July 2009 - a fifth-tier start

Leipzig's first official fixture was in the first round of the Saxony Cup against VfK Blau-Weiß Leipzig on 31 July 2009, and resulted in a 5-0 win. A 1-1 draw at FC Carl Zeiss Jena II on 8 August 2009 marked their league baptism, and the start of an extraordinary story. Tino Vogel guided them to promotion to the Regionalliga, although he was replaced by Tomas Oral for Leipzig's first shot at promotion to the third division.

2010-2012: Regionalliga struggles

No fairy tale is without its setbacks, however, and in spite of their unwavering ambition – including a move from their 5,500-capacity Stadion am Bad home to the 44,000-capacity Red Bull Arena – and the arrival of players with a wealth of experience at higher levels, taking the next step up the German football ladder proved tricky. Though they won the Saxony Cup, a fourth-place finish condemned them to a second season in the Regionalliga. Peter Pacult picked up the reins in the summer, yet in spite of a promising start, which included victory over Bundesliga side Wolfsburg in the first round of the DFB Cup, only a marginal improvement to third meant they would have to play a third straight season in the fourth tier.

The 2011 Sachsenpokal was the first piece of silverware RB Leipzig won. - imago sportfotodienst/imago sportfotodienst

2012/13: Ralf Rangnick's arrival

That summer, 2012, saw the real foundations laid for the club's current success, with former Schalke, Hoffenheim and Manchester United coach Ralf Rangnick arriving in the role of director of sport. He appointed Alexander Zorniger in place of Pacult, and the Regionalliga Nordost title was theirs with a handful of games to spare. They won the Saxony Cup for the second time and, thanks to a 4-2 win over Sportfreunde Lotte in the play-offs for promotion, Leipzig finally rose to the third division.

2013/14: upwardly mobile

Joshua Kimmich and Yussuf Poulsen were among a group of young, promising players signed on for Leipzig's first – and ultimately only – season in Germany's third tier. Defeat to Augsburg in the first round of the DFB Cup ended a year-long unbeaten streak, but promotion was always the priority and, thanks to a 5-1 win over 1. FC Saarbrücken in the penultimate round of matches, their place in Bundesliga 2 was secured.

2014-2016: the final step on the ladder

Like with the Regionalliga, Leipzig could not find the fast track to promotion and after Zorniger resigned, Rangnick himself took his place on the bench, albeit without managing to steer them any higher than fifth. Further investment in the squad followed in the summer of 2015 and Rangnick led one of the league's youngest, yet certainly most talented sides into the top flight at the second time of asking.

Watch: Leipzig's Bundesliga promotion party

2016/17: equipped for the top flight

For the start of their first ever Bundesliga campaign, Rangnick pulled a rabbit out of the hat in the form of Ralph Hasenhüttl, who replaced him as head coach and allowed him to focus on his duties as director of sport. That renewed focus could be seen in the signings of Timo Werner, Naby Keita and, after they had set a new record as the best ever promoted club by going 13 games unbeaten – a run which saw them rise to the top of the standings for three matchdays - Dayot Upamecano joined in the winter break. Although they were unable to sustain such a blistering pace, only Bayern fared better that season, with Leipzig completing their climb from the fifth division to a place in the Champions League in just eight years.

Dayot Upamecano joined RB Leipzig in January 2017. - DFL

2017-2019: established Bundesliga force

Leipzig stuck to their philosophy of signing talented young players with the arrivals of Jean-Kevin Augustin, Bruma and Ademola Lookman, while it was another of their unearthed talents – Emil Forsberg – who registered their first ever goal in Europe, in a 1-1 draw with Monaco. With only two wins in their group, Leipzig dropped into the Europa League, where they beat Napoli and Zenit St Petersburg on their way to elimination in the quarter-finals at the hands of Marseille. On the domestic front, the famous second-season syndrome struck, although they managed to hold off Stuttgart for sixth place and a second straight season of European football, this time with the Europa League. 2018/19 was considered a year of transition, with Rangnick returning to his previous coaching duties to keep the bench warm for Julian Nagelsmann, who would be joining from Hoffenheim in summer 2019. He handed over quite a team too, with renewed Champions League qualification after finishing third, and a first ever appearance in the DFB Cup final, which they lost 3-0 to Bayern.

2019-2021: next step with Nagelsmann

Nagelsmann arrived and carried forward the excellent work Rangnick had done, taking Die Roten Bullen to the top of the table at the midway stage of the season and ensuring that, for the first time in their history, they made it through the group stage of the Champions League. Tottenham Hotspur were Leipzig's first UCL knockout stage opponents, and they were swept aside with a 1-0 win in London followed by a 3-0 victory on home soil. Finally, Leipzig's name was making waves around Europe, when the Covid-19 pandemic struck.

Watch: Nagelsmann's Leipzig tactics

The Bundesliga became the first of Europe's top leagues to resume and play to a conclusion, and Leipzig repeated their third-place finish from 2019, with Werner - Leipzig's all-time top goalscorer - supplying a remarkable 28 goals.

History was then made with a 2-1 win over Atletico Madrid taking Leipzig into the semi-finals of the Champions League, and setting up a final four date with Paris Saint-Germain.

2021-present: forging a new path

When Nagelsmann departed for Bayern in summer 2021, Jesse Marsch, who had been assistant to Rangnick in the season prior to Nagelsmann's arrival, took over the reins, having proven his credentials as a head coach in a successful spell at sister club Red Bull Salzburg.

Things did not quite pan out as planned, however, and Marsch was replaced by Domenico Tedesco in late 2021, the former Schalke boss lifting the side from mid-table to a fourth-placed finish, as well as a maiden major title by lifting the 2022 DFB Cup following a shoot-out win over Freiburg.

Domenico Tedesco steered Leipzig to their first piece of major silverware in the shape of the DFB Cup in May 2022. - /

The club's 2022/23 campaign got off to a slow start though, and Marco Rose was brought in to succeed Tedesco at the helm of a side bursting with talent in the likes of Christopher Nkunku, Dani Olmo, Timo Werner and Dominik Szoboszlai.

There may have been more upheaval recently than in previous times - but what adolescent doesn't have growing pains? After all, it took Leipzig just 11 years from birth to the brink of a Champions League final and while it has been a spectacular ride, you would not bet against the next chapters in this modern day footballing fairy tale being equally, if not more thrilling.