Messi, Ronaldo ‘too old’ to help lift little Leipzig
Neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo would be considered fresh enough at youthful Bundesliga leader RB Leipzig, according to team sports director Ralf Rangnick.
Founded in 2009, Leipzig is bankrolled by energy drink giant Red Bull and tops the German league after four promotions in seven years.
Impressively, it has done it with a squad with an average age of 23 — and devoid of any superstars.
Eight of the players that started last Saturday’s 2-1 win over Schalke played for RB in the second division last season.
Rangnick joined Leipzig in 2012 when the club was in the fourth tier.
The 58-year-old showed the door to those the wrong side of 30, signing youngsters on their first or second contracts, including current club captain Dominik Kaiser.
And Rangnick shook his head when asked if he would like to sign Real Madrid’s Ronaldo, 31, or Barcelona’s Messi, 29.
“It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here,” said Rangnick with a grin.
“They are both too old and too expensive.”
His most recent recruits illustrate the point.
Scotland winger Oliver Burke, 19, arrived from Nottingham Forest, while Guinea midfielder Naby Keita, 21, and Brazilian defender Bernardo, 21, both came from Leipzig’s sister club, RB Salzburg in Austria.
“We have the youngest team — and most inexperienced — in the league,” he said.
RB Leipzig is the only club from the former East Germany in the Bundesliga, and its success has caught Rangnick and many others by surprise.
“I don’t know if it’s a revolu- tion, but it’s unusual that a team that was in the fourth division three-and-a-half years ago has 33 points after 13 games,” he said. “Nobody expected this.”
Leipzig is unpopular with some German fans, who say the team only exists to sell Red Bull’s drinks.
Borussia Dortmund chief executive Hans-Joachim Watzke described RB Leipzig as ‘performing cans’, words he might now regret as Dortmund lost 1-0 at Leipzig’s Red Bull Arena in September.
“If that was true, then 11 cans beat 11 bottles, which in German (slang) means ‘someone who played poorly’ — I say that with a twinkle in my eye,” said Rangnick, who has been here before.
He was coach of Hoffenheim in 2008-09, which is bankrolled by a German soft- ware billionaire — a club that was unpopular until it beat Bayern Munich to first in the league table by Christmas, only to eventually finish seventh.
“Whenever a new club comes along, fans of rival teams see it as an opponent and an enemy,” said Rangnick.
“It was the same with Hoffenheim, we were disliked in the second division, but really disliked when we went up to the Bundesliga.
“Then we played Bayern and we were top, and everyone was supporting us.
“There are people, not just in Leipzig, who think we deserve what is happening to us right now. Neutrals will say we deserve what we have with such young players.”
It would be absurd to think that it could work with them here. They are both too old and too expensive.” Ralf Rangnick, on the idea of Messi or Ronaldo going to Leipzig
Rangnick is seen as one of Germany’s most talented managers.
He was approached about the England job when Roy Hodgson stood down after Euro 2016, ahead of Sam Allardyce’s ill-fated 67-day reign.
“I think it an honor that they asked a German coach if I was available,” he said.
“But even if they had offered it to me, I wouldn’t have stopped working for Red Bull completely. We are building our own tradition and writing our own story right now.”
Rangnick rejected the notion that Leipzig is Germany’s version of Leicester City, last season’s surprise English Premier League winner.
“We share the first three letters in our names, but little else,” he said.
“In a normal season, Bayern will win the title, but maybe this isn’t a normal season.
“Our match against them (Dec 21) won’t be decisive, but it will be exciting.
“Last season, we were the favorites in each (second division) game. This season we have nothing to lose.”