We just passed the 10-year anniversary of Papa Red Bull's purchase of SV Austria Salzburg, now FC Red Bull Salzburg: the hometown flagship of a soccer empire that has since expanded to include a second-tier club in Germany (Cousin Leipzig), a regional league outfit in Brazil (Cousin Brasil), a contorted relationship with a second-tier Austrian team (Second Cousin Liefering), and the New York Red Bulls. Cousin Ghana was divested in 2014.
And in recent weeks, there has been repeated suggestion that Papa is looking to add to the family. Salzburger Nachrichten got Papa himself, Dietrich Mateschitz, to sit down and talk about his family plans, and he addressed the rumors linking Red Bull to Leeds United directly:
"This is not an issue for us"
For those keeping score, this would be the third denial of the notion Papa is in for Leeds in less than a week: Oliver Mintzlaff (Red Bull head of global football marketing) and Ralf Rangnick (sporting director for Brother Salzburg and Cousin Leipzig) have each dismissed the rumor recently.
Will the third time be the charm? Is Papa's short shrift sufficiently short and shrifty to make a rumor that has lingered since (at least) 2013 go away?
Probably not. The article takes a moment to reference what appears to be a takeover rumor dating back to 2010 (when Papa was alleged to be looking hard at Torino), and that snippet has already popped up in some reports of Mateschitz's interview with his local newspaper.
Salzburger Nachrichten also asserts "the Premier League is very attractive with certainty", the assumption that underpins every mention of Papa's name in connection with an EPL club (Aston Villa, most recently) or one with realistic Premiership ambitions (Leeds United).
And, of course, "this is not an issue for us" might be a convincing denial in German, but it loses something in translation. And that "something" is the conviction necessary to shut down a rumor mill.
Still got an eye on you, Papa. We know you were up to something.
Of perhaps greater interest to New York Red Bulls fans might be Mateschitz's comments on the primary subject of the interview: Brother Salzburg.
RBNY's big brother club has won its league five times in the 10 years Papa has been in charge. But it continues to chase an elusive goal: qualification for the group stage of the Champions League. The latest strategy has been an influx of youth to the first team squad.
In the January transfer window, for example, the club signed 20-year-old Takumi Minamino and 22-year-old Marco Djuricin. Meanwhile, 25-year-old attacking star, Alan Carvalho, who tallied 26 goals in 29 league appearances in the 2013-14 season, moved to Guanghzhou Evergrande for a transfer fee in the region of $12 million. And 24-year-old Slovenian midfielder Kevin Kampl moved to Borussia Dortmund for an almost $13 million fee.
That's good business: Salzburg's January dealings alone netted an estimated $20 million (give or take) in profit. But selling star players approaching their prime and replacing them with up-and-comers is not the traditional path to Champions League glory, or even the Champions League group stage, which is the most urgent goal on Salzburg's agenda at the moment.
As it happens, $20 million is roughly the figure that gets used to describe Papa's frantic spending on Cousin Leipzig this season, as he continues to try to get the team into Germany's top-flight.
That sort of pattern - groom young stars and sell them on at something close to peak transfer value - is the kind of activity that gets a club branded a "feeder team". A very good, very rich feeder team, but a feeder team nonetheless.
Back In February, Papa spoke directly on the subject of Salzburg's youth movement and the apparent transfer of investment priorities to Leipzig. As reported by Peter Staunton for Goal.com:
"We just cannot keep in Austria very good young players and Leipzig therefore is a logical objective. It would be naive to think we could have kept a Kampl or Ramalho [23-year-old Andre Ramalho is pledged to join Bayer Leverkusen in the summer] here. Our concept is as clear as two plus two equals four."
The concept, as Papa goes on to explain, is to keep Salzburg as strong as it needs to be to keep getting into Champions League qualifying and keep trying to break through to the group stage. And to do what needs to be done to get Leipzig to achieve its goals.
The apparent reality of that concept is you groom young players at a level where they can excel and then pitch them up to a higher level when they're ready for the next step up.
And if those steps can be contained with the Red Bull system, one assumes, so much the better for all of Papa's soccer family.
In his more recent chat with Salzburger Nachrichten, Papa responds to the "training club" charge leveled at Salzburg by making it clear he's all about talent development (per Google Translate):
"This is really the highest for a football club. Young talents leading up."
Exciting times in Salzburg. Also, as it happens, a similar strategy to that being implemented by RBNY this season. The club has long had one of the better academies in MLS, and therefore has long had a somewhat dysfunctional development pipeline, at least in terms of consistently bringing young players through to starting spots in the first team.
This season, at last, we are seeing evidence of a more coherent approach. In part, this is simply because MLS has finally got around with figuring out a structure that will allow all its teams to incubate talent at a scale more consistent with the numbers produced by a healthy academy: the USL relationship is encouraging, and NYRB II is at last a reality. And in part this is down to a renewed focus within RBNY itself: we keep hearing about sensible and serious efforts to focus the academy system on developing players for the first team.
This is good. This is necessary. And, it would appear, it's exactly the way Papa wants it.