Leipzig’s participation in either of the main European competitions had been in doubt due to drinks manufacturer Red Bull’s involvement in both teams, which theoretically left them in violation of Article 5 of the competition regulations.
However, the two clubs have provided enough evidence to convince the governing body of European football that they are separate entities.
Why could Leipzig have been barred from Europe?
It is well known that Red Bull effectively owns two clubs in Europe, buying the former SV Austria Salzburg in 2005 before purchasing the licence of German fourth-tier side SSV Markranstädt in 2009 for the newly-formed RB Leipzig.
Any potential conflict of interest on the continental stage had not been an issue as Leipzig climbed up the German league system. However, by finishing second in their first Bundesliga season, they qualified for the Champions League, whilst Salzburg won the Austrian Bundesliga for the eighth time in 11 seasons to also qualify to Europe's top competition.
Article 5 of the Regulations of the UEFA Champions League 2015-18 Cycle stipulate that no club should hold influence over another “to ensure the integrity of the UEFA club competitions.”
It goes on to state that “no individual or legal entity may have control or influence over more than one club participating in a UEFA club competition.” In the case of Leipzig and Salzburg, critics argued that Red Bull and/or the company’s owner Dietrich Mateschitz were in control of both clubs.
The article goes on to state that if they had been found in breach of these rules, the side who finished higher in its domestic league would be allowed to compete in European competitions – as Austrian champions that would have been Salzburg. Leipzig would not have been allowed to take part in Europe at all.
UEFA deems club to not be in breach of Article 5
It had been widely expected that UEFA would allow both clubs to take part, given efforts made to implement organisational changes, particularly at Salzburg, where Red Bull and Mateschitz now nominally act as a main sponsor, rather than owners.
And thus on Tuesday, UEFA confirmed that it had found that the clubs were not in breach of Article 5, saying that they “deemed that no individual or legal entity had anymore a decisive influence over more than one club.”
They added that they will “monitor both clubs to ensure that integrity rules are respected going forward,” and that any party wishing to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport had ten days.
Many, though, will still feel that the relationship between the two clubs does not truly stand up to scrutiny despite the league position. For example, despite Salzburg receiving less funding direct from Red Bull, that have profited in recent years from transfers of players between them and Leipzig, Naby Keïta, Bernardo and Dayot Upamecano are amongst the players to have made that move in the past 12 months.
Despite that, Leipzig will now, therefore, take their place in the Champions League group stage, whilst Salzburg start in the second qualifying round. They found out on Monday that their opponents will be either Hibernians of Malta or Estonian champions FCI Tallinn.
Quotes via UEFA.