Terrence Boyd faces down the hate of a nation at Leipzig
It’s just not just some people, says budding US striker Terrence Boyd. “Almost an entire nation really hates us.”
The nation is Germany. The team is his club side, RB Leipzig. And the reason for the hatred? What those two letters represent: Red Bull*.
The Austrian energy drink manufacturer is building a worldwide stable of Red Bull clubs, and its mission in Leipzig is to take a team from the fifth division to the Champions League. In just five seasons, they’ve already risen to the second tier. As it stands, they have a slim chance of back-to-back-to-back promotions.
Fans in New York might have the occasional grumble about the way Red Bull rebranded the Metro Stars. In Germany, ; they’ve spat at Leipzig’s players, pelted their team bus with rocks, and sent intimidating personal letters to their supporters, advising them not to follow the team on the road.
One side, Erzgebirge Aue, “an Austrian calls and you follow him blindly … You would have made good Nazis”. Red Bull’s home in Salzburg is just down the road from Hitler’s birthplace.
“It’s crazy what people do,” says Boyd over Chinese one Sunday night. “They take it too serious sometimes, you know. When we are away, sometimes in the middle of the night, hooligans from the opponent clubs come to our hotels like in the middle of the night and chant ‘Fuck Red Bull’.”
The Red Bulls are considered an affront to German football’s famous ownership model, where members, not businessmen, have the controlling stake in their club. The German FA seems to have turned a blind eye to RB Leipzig, perhaps in part because the company is investing so heavily in the old East Germany. .
To give an idea of just how divided football in Germany is, the top flight hasn’t featured a team from the east since 2009. Of the three eastern teams currently in the second-division, one is in a relegation contender, and another isn’t far off.
The other, of course, is Boyd’s. Saxony’s second city is back on the national football stage, and this team which didn’t really exist a few years back is already pulling bigger home crowds than St Pauli, the club . The Red Bulls are playing considerably better than their left-wing rivals too.
“It’s our first season in the second league [and we’ve been] surprising everybody with our philosophy, with our game style,” says Boyd.
A slump over the winter has made the team’s task of yet another promotion more difficult, and although Boyd says Leipzig are now playing better than ever, he and the club seem happy to take a breather on their way up to the big time.
“Some people say we should get promoted, but still it’s going to be a long process, because we have to still learn a lot. We’ve got some big challenges, but next year we will be ready for promotion.”
Fifa lists Boyd as an American playing in Germany. The story is more complex than that though. He was born in Bremen just months after reunification. His mother is a local, his father was an American soldier stationed there around the end of the Cold War. When Terrence was one, the family moved to Queens, New York, but things soon turned sour. A year later, mother and son headed home.
Raised in Germany by his mother and her new partner - “I consider him to be my dad” - he quickly developed a passion for football. His skill would take him firstly to the capital, where he played with Hertha Berlin’s youth side, then to Borussia Dortmund’s reserves. From there, he joined Rapid Vienna in Austria’s top flight, before landing at Leipzig in the off-season.
Even without playing a game in the Bundesliga, he was on the USMNT’s radar. He is one of a number of servicemen’s sons that coach Jürgen Klinsmann has enticed to join his side. Yet it almost didn’t happen.
“I was called up to the Under-20s for the first time and I couldn’t go, because I didn’t have an American passport at the time. I had no contact with my American family at all any more, hadn’t heard from them for years.
“And so the Under-20s coach said, ‘Maybe you can find them on social media?’. And I was like, ‘Yeah, whatever. I’ll never find them on social media.’ And, yeah, funnily, I searched for my cousin on Facebook, and there were like eight guys with his name. And I actually found him - and he wrote me back!
“That’s how I got back in touch with my grandparents, and my aunty, and she got all the paperwork from my dad, because I’m still not in touch with him. I don’t want to talk to him anymore since he left the family early and didn’t care for me, you know.
“So she sent me the paperwork and I got this citizenship. I was so happy. Yeah, it’s a funny story: Because of Facebook I’m a national team player.”
Boyd has embraced his American heritage enthusiastically, as the the bald eagle tattoo that runs the full length of his right arm attests. “Yeah, I’m like the most patriotic German-American, I think. I’m very happy being part of the US national team, very proud.”
Still recovering from a knee injury, Boyd won’t play again this season, and is therefore an unlikely to figure in Klinsmann’s plans for July’s Gold Cup. His immediate goal to be ready for the pre-season, win his club promotion and then see where his talents can take him. Eventually, that might even be the MLS. “I want to get as far as possible in Europe, but my dream is to play in the MLS one day, that’s true.”
If Red Bull maintains its interest in the sport, he could always just transfer between franchises.
* It literally stands for RasenBallsport, but few fans are unaware that it represents the club’s backers, Red Bull