Like Timo Werner at full pace, RB Leipzig’s rise from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga and Europe has been a blur. - © 2019 DFL
Like Timo Werner at full pace, RB Leipzig’s rise from the fifth tier to the Bundesliga and Europe has been a blur. - © 2019 DFL

RB Leipzig: 10 years, four promotions, one goal


RB Leipzig were founded on 19 May 2009. A decade and four promotions later, the club are in their first DFB Cup final, have not once finished outside of the Bundesliga's top six and are now a regular fixture in Europe. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, charts their remarkable journey.

By the time Die Roten Bullen won promotion to the Bundesliga in 2016, the German top flight had been without a side from the Saxony city for 22 years, yet the country's footballing past is inextricably interwoven with Leipzig.

Leipzig’s founding fathers

It was in Leipzig that the German Football Association (DFB) was founded on 28 January 1900, with the country's governing body crowning VfB Leipzig its first league champions three years later. The club would go on to lift two more titles before eventually being dissolved at the end of the Second World War.

From the club's ashes rose SC Rotation Leipzig, FC Lokomotive Leipzig and FC Lok Stendel, who vied for local bragging rights in the DDR Oberliga; the highest division in East Germany from the 1950s, right up until Germany's reunification and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Slowly but surely, teams from East Germany were brought into the by-now established Bundesliga, where Lokomotive re-emerged as VfB Leipzig and took up Bundesliga 2 residence in 1991. They gained promotion to the top flight in 1993 but were relegated the following year with just three wins to show for their time in the Bundesliga.

The people of Leipzig went over two decades without Bundesliga football in their city and were excited for its return with RB Leipzig. - 2019 DFL

Insolvency and financial strife would hit the club in the following years before again becoming Lokomotive Leipzig in 2004. They now reside in the fourth tier of German football, from where they have watched their newest neighbours soar.

The birth of RB Leipzig

The two actually shared divisions in both 2009/10 (NOFV-Oberliga Süd) and 2012/13 (Regionalliga Nordost), but Lokomotive have been left behind by their one-time rivals at the speed of a freight train, with no time for passengers.

It was on that aforementioned day in May 10 years ago that RasenBallsport Leipzig picked up SSV Markranstädt's right to play fifth-tier football. The Zentralstadion was acquired, the region's largest stadium providing the brand new outfit with grand plans, the perfect home from which to plot its path.

Leipzig weren't messing around, with the head of the Red Bull Arena's previous tenants Michael Kölmel clearly laying out their ambitions for the world to see. "If things go badly, the club will rise every two years. To be in the Bundesliga in eight years is a realistic scenario that doesn't put too much pressure on anyone," said Kölmel at the conclusion of stadium negotiations.

RB Leipzig have come a long way since local derbies in the fifth tier and are now regulars on the European stage. - imago sportfotodienst

Promotion immediately followed with coach Tino Vogel leading his young team to the fifth-tier Oberliga title, accumulating 80 points out of a possible 90 along the way and ending their first campaign a whole 22 points ahead of their nearest challengers. The country was put on notice, and Kölmel's eight-year prophecy was looking good.

In Ralf we trust

Two years on, the club would be promoted again; this time waving goodbye to Lokomotive as Alexander Zorniger shepherded his herd of bulls into the 3. Liga and adding a Regionalliga Nordost triumph to the club's newly installed trophy cabinet.

While Zorniger would secure back-to-back promotions by taking Leipzig into Bundesliga 2 a year on, it was another staff hire in the summer of 2012 that would have a profound impact on the club that is felt to this day.

In June, former Schalke, Hoffenheim, VfB Stuttgart and Hannover coach Ralf Rangnick was appointed technical director of both RB Leipzig and their sister side in Salzburg and the club has not been the same ever since. "Starting today, a new era begins," said Rangnick. And too right; his fingerprints left in every crevice of Leipzig's success in the seven years since.

Watch: Leipzig’s Bundesliga promotion celebrations

CEO Oliver Mintzlaff would go on to describe Rangnick as the "architect" and "sporting engine" of the club and having finished fifth in their first Bundesliga 2 season, Rangnick would take the wheel as head coach in 2015/16 for the first of two highly successful campaigns, delivering promotion to the Bundesliga by the end of the year, as well as Kölmel's vision exactly on schedule.

A historic Bundesliga breakout

Ahead of their maiden Bundesliga season, Rangnick would move back into his role as sporting director, with Ralph Hasenhüttl stepping in to his new boss' rather enormous shoes.

The Leipzig fairytale showed no signs of stopping, though, with captain Dominik Kaiser – who had been at the club since their Regionalliga Nordost days in 2012 – scoring their first-ever Bundesliga goal in the 2-2 draw with Hoffenheim on Sunday 28 August 2016.

There was no turning back for Leipzig as they went on a 13-match unbeaten run (W10, D3) at the start of their Bundesliga debut, defying the odds – and the naysayers – with their swashbuckling brand of counter-attacking 4-4-2 football.

Watch: 10 of Leipzig’s best goals on the counter

Timo Werner would bag 21 goals in 31 appearances that season, with the likes of Emil Forsberg, Yussuf Poulsen, Marcel Halstenberg, Marcel Sabitzer and current club captain Willi Orban among those who impressed in that first season and remain at the club to this day. A second-place finish would be just reward for the precocious Saxons, who became the first club in Bundesliga history to secure European qualification in their first season.

Next stop, Europe

Reward for finishing runners-up to perennial champions Bayern Munich came in the form of qualification for the group stages of the UEFA Champions League; another landmark being reached at a blur on a journey now keeping pace with the Formula One cars Dietrich Mateschitz's company also put their name to.

Leipzig would be drawn alongside Monaco, Porto and Besiktas in Group G and, despite two wins and a draw, eventually finished third; dropping into the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League. It is perhaps fitting for a club on such a rapid trajectory that they would sample the delights of both European club competitions in the same, breakout, season.

A quarter-final exit to Marseille would eventually knock them off course in Europe, but they would be back a year later after Hasenhüttl steered his charges to sixth-place and Europa League football once again in their second Bundesliga campaign.

Rangnick would return to the helm once more ahead of the 2018/19 campaign, which ultimately saw Leipzig narrowly drop out of the Europa League group stages but go on to secure a spot in next season's Champions League as a welcoming gift to incoming coach Julian Nagelsmann.

RB Leipzig’s attacking play has seen them quickly develop a rivalry with German giants Bayern Munich. - 2019 DFL

And yet, their campaign is not over; a DFB Cup final awaits on 25 May against Bayern, who now see Leipzig as a genuine threat on all fronts.

"I've been at this club for a long time and have been allowed to be a part of this special journey," said Denmark striker Poulsen, now the club's record appearance maker. "What's nicer is that we'll now get to experience a special match in Berlin. It'll be special for us all – the players, the club, and the fans."

Should Leipzig leave the German capital with their first major trophy, it will also be the latest stop on their record-making adventure. It's been thrilling, fascinating and there is no doubt more to come. At the lick they are moving, good luck taking in the scenery...