RB Leipzig poured cold water all over Union Berlin's big day in the Bundesliga, routing the newcomers 4-0. The meeting of two very different clubs shined a light on the future of German football, writes Michael Da Silva.
Union Berlin's first-ever promotion to the Bundesliga and their fairytale story have seen them win many hearts. If anyone needed a reminder of why this club is so fondly thought of, their pre-match tribute to fellow Union fans who passed away before getting to see the club reach the top flight was a uniquely poignant moment. They do things differently in this corner of Berlin, and they're a club whose old-school way has won them a lot of goodwill. Their promotion has been a breath of fresh air.
However, the reality of modern football is that this comes at a cost. On the field, Union were devoured by a Leipzig side who were miles ahead in every department. As a summer deluge of rain hammered the Stadion An der Alten Försterei, Union's football ineptitude was brutally exposed by a Leipzig team whose status as title outliers makes them a very dangerous prospect this season.
Young, ruthless and energized by the arrival of Germany's brightest young coach, RB Leipzig will chew up and spit out plenty of other Bundesliga teams. But Union will have to wise up quickly if they're to win games and avoid heading straight back to the second tier.
The visit of Leipzig was the perfect opportunity for Union supporters to taunt the visiting fans and they didn't waste any time, unfurling a banner that read: "After 10 years, once again an East German club in the Bundesliga." That accompanied a 15-minute atmosphere boycott from kick off – although just 50 seconds after it ended, Leipzig silenced the stadium with their first of four goals.
It's quite clear that Union fans don't even recognize RB Leipzig's right to exist and that anyone who supports them must be considered a customer of Red Bull, complicit in the creation of a football team as a marketing vehicle for the drinks company from whom they take their name. You don't have to be an Union fan to feel this way – it's a widely held perspective in Germany.
There are faults in that argument that are best left for another article, but it does raise questions about the Bundesliga's future. What type of Bundesliga is awaiting us in the years ahead? Union aren't the first set of fans to protest against RB Leipzig and won't be the last, but the clash of cultures highlights that while tradition is an important part of building an identity, tradition alone won't see them reach the on-field level of Leipzig, Dortmund or Bayern Munich any time soon. Only investment and smart decision-making at boardroom level will see Union compete and money warps the soul.
Retaining the tradition and fan culture that makes German football unique while achieving success is a balancing act. Ultimately it comes down to what you value. Many feel that Leipzig's exploitation of the very boundaries of the 50+1 rule is to be despised, but in a league that sorely needs a new champion, organic development isn't cutting it.