The Meteoric Rise of RB Leipzig: From Tier Five Football to the Champions League


The best football clubs in the world usually have a storied history, years of success, and generations of fans. However, one of the best clubs in the world right now does not have all that – RB Leipzig. RB Leipzig’s rise is one of the most impressive in reason memory. Here is RB Leipzig’s ten-year run, from a tier five expansion club to perennial Bundesliga contender and Champions League semi-finalist.

“Fußball; Freundschaftsspiel RB Leipzig” by Steffen Prößdorf is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Early Years and Rise Through German Football

It was 2006, and billionaire Dietrich Mateschitz – co-founder of Red Bull – decided to invest in a brand new German football club. He spent over three years searching for a suitable location – debating between Leipzig, Hamburg, Munich, and Dusseldorf. Mateschitz and his team eventually decided on Leipzig – due to the city’s size, economic potential, and the fact no team from the region had not had a team in the Bundesliga since 1995.

The club made its debut in 2009 in the NOFV-Oberliga – a tier five league. Leipzig squashed the competition in their augural season – going 26-2-2 with a +57-goal differential, which led to a promotion to the tier four Regionalliga in 2010.

Leipzig would spend three years in the Regionalliga, finishing fourth, third, and first overall. The first-place finish promoted them to the third-tier 3. Liga. Leipzig would not last long in the 3. Liga, finishing second in their first and only season in the league.

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In 2014, Leipzig was promoted to the 2. Bundesliga. Their first season in the 2. Bundesliga was the club’s worst season yet. They finished fifth overall, and their goal differential of +8 was 20 worse than their previous low. The underwhelming result cost manager Daniel Frahn his job.

Under their new manager Dominik Kaiser, they had a much more successful season in the 2. Bundesliga. They climbed from fifth to second place – and after the season, they were promoted to the Bundesliga – making it to the top tier league in only eight years.

“Fußball, Männer, UEFA Champions League” by Steffen Prößdorf is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Welcome to the Bundesliga

Many believed the upstart franchise would flounder in their first Bundesliga season. The club’s climb through the lower tier was quite quick, and the difference in competition between the Bundesliga and 2. Bundesliga was their most significant leap yet.

The critics were silenced quickly. RB Leipzig opened the season on a 10-game unbeaten streak – which included a 1-0 over Borussia Dortmund (the second-place team in 2016) and a 3-2 over Bayer Leverkusen (the third-place team in 2016). The ten-game unbeaten streak propelled RB Leipzig to a second-place finish in their first season. They also qualified for the Champions League for the first time (more on that later).

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RB Leipzig dipped in their second Bundesliga season, finishing in sixth place. The next two seasons, RB Leipzig finished third in the Bundesliga and through 12 matches in the 2020-21 Bundesliga season, they are tied for second – one point behind the top club.

Success at the Champions Leagues

RB Leipzig’s first appearance at the UEFA Champions League wasn’t any special, finishing third in their group and qualifying for the Europa League. They made it to the quarterfinals at the 2017-18 Europa League.

They missed out on the Champions League the next year but qualified again in 2019 – where the club entered the “are they elite” conversation. RB Leipzig reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2020, beating Tottenham Hotspur and Atletico Madrid in the round of 16 and quarterfinals.

They lost to Paris Saint-Germaine 3-0 in the semis but making it that fair is quite the feat for a club that went from playing against tier five German clubs to the elite of Europe in only a decade.

RB Leipzig is again in the knockout stage at the 2020/21 Champions League. If they manage to make the Finals or even win the whole thing, RB Leipzig will go down as one of the biggest success stories of any sport this millennium.

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