The name Christoph Freund might be unknown to many. Maybe his (ex) job title, Sporting Director of RB Salzburg might hint about his genius to football fans. And, for those who do know him, would describe him as someone who likes to work behind the scenes, adapts to what a club needs and has managed to formulate a wildly successful and unorthodox transfer philosophy: thanks to which he now boasts a formidable CV of footballing stars scouted, topped by very few.
In case you have been living under a rock, FC Bayern have now confirmed that the next sporting director for FC Bayern will indeed be Christoph Freund, currently at Salzburg. Ever since he took over as SD at RB Salzburg, the club as won the league title every year, achieved a Europa League semi-final and most notably, reached a Round of 16 game against FC Bayern and even managed a draw against the then reigning champions.
ℹ Dienstantritt am 1. September: FC Bayern holt Christoph Freund als Sportdirektor.— FC Bayern München (@FCBayern) July 18, 2023
But the multitude of questions now arise: what is so unique about him and what he can potentially bring to the table at our club. I look to answer all that in this well-researched, and hopefully informative piece. It will be a long read, so get ready to learn more about our newest Sporting Director: Christoph Freund.
Christoph Freund: eccentric, yet distinctive.
A (not-so) brief history
No, this does not describe Freund's persona. While maybe you could describe his well-combed hair, sharp jawline and an uncanny resemblance of Hollywood star Willem Dafoe (please tell me you see it too!) as a distinctive look, a different quality of his better meets this description: his antics in the transfer market. Today, his name is engraved beside those of Ralf Rangnick (more on the two of them later) when it comes to the rise of the Red Bull footballing empire. It is important to gain some backstory as we discuss this segment.
Freund was born in Austria, on July 2, 1977. He instantly picked up football as a kid, and went on to play professionally across the entire Austrian football pyramid. He joined the SV Austria Salzburg (now RB Salzburg) youth academy as a midfielder in 1991. He later moved to WSG Wattens in the second devision in 1999/2000, and was relegated the next season. He moved to another second division club after relegation, and then back down to Regionalliga with AVSO FC Puch.
Christoph Freund pictured kicking a ball. (Source: RB Salzburg / Official)
The details of his career remain hazy, but it was a modest career which ingrained inside him an appeal for attacking football. It allowed him to identify with the ideals of the next club in his path: back to what used to be his boyhood club, and not in a way you'd expect. In 2006, just an year after the Red Bull takeover of his boyhood club, the previously 29-year-old Freund (then at the relatively early end of his career) accepted a team manager role at RB Salzburg.
In the decade that followed, Freund would take up a lot of different tasks at the club including becoming sports coordinator as Rangnick joined the club in 2012, before finally accepting the role of Sporting Director alongside his longtime friend and then Salzburg CMO/CEO, Jochen Sauer in 2015.
He describes his own work at the club:
"I started (at RB Salzburg) as a team manager in 2006, organized a lot around the team and their games. I then grew more and more into contract management, for example in terms of player contracts, transfers, human resources, legal matters.
It then went more and more into the sporting area. In the winter of 2012, Oliver Glasner and I took over as sports coordinators, but we were also more in the background. But the work already included the processing of contracts. Since Ralf Rangnick has been there in 2012, I have been involved even more in the sporting area and have continued to educate myself."
-- Christoph Freund in an interview with LAOLA1 in 2015, after news of him taking over as Sporting Director of RB Salzburg alongside Jochen Sauer was made official.
Jochen Sauer later left RB Salzburg in 2017 to take of the role of Director of Youth Development at the newly opened FC Bayern Campus. He has only recently extended his contract at Bayern, and will also be taking charge of the development partnership with LAFC. He will soon be reunited with Freund (more on what their rekindled partnership could mean for FC Bayern later).
Freund becomes RB Salzburg SD
In 2015, RB Salzburg announced Ralf Rangnick's departure from the club to Leipzig and that Christoph Freund would succeed him as Sporting Director. Immediately, questions arose about whether or not he was ready. An interview he gave to LAOLA1 calmed the unrest, as he was touted saying "It's not about the name Christoph Freund..."
From 2006 up to 2015, Freund had worked alongside many well known footballing professionals: Rangnick, Sauer, Glasner etc. When it was time for him to take over as SD, it was the culmination of everything he had learnt working under and alongside such minds that made him a great one.
From left to right: Christoph Freund, alongside Ralf Rangnick and Jochen Sauer [side note: Freund looks exactly like Willem Dafoe, change my mind]. (Source: LAOLA1)
Freund chose a player development approach, coupled with RB Salzburg's unrivaled domestic success to achieve stability at the club. He retained the transfer ideas of Rangnick: Freund recognized (like Ralf did), that in order to become a force, it is crucial for Salzburg to focus almost exclusively on U22, U23 players. He also makes it clear, that when it comes to finding talented young players, "we must get them as early as 16, 17; because by 22-23 it will be too late." His exclusive focus on young and talented players is indeed smart, but it is not what makes him unique.
Freund makes it a point that the players he signs must be of the style of football the club plays. This is important, as most transfers don't work out due to an inability to soak up the club's footballing values. Freund has cultivated an reputation at Salzburg for youth development, and it is a big reason as to how Salzburg have cemented themselves as a great option for youth players, giving them the platform to develop. But how has he done this?
They don't come to Austria for the wonderful landscape or money. They come to RB Salzburg because they will get the opportunity at some time to move to a big club, if they perform."
-- Christoph Freund (on why players choose RB Salzburg)
Christopher Freund giving an interview for Sky Sports: he has always been open about his players taking the next step from Salzburg. (Source: Sky Sports)
Freund's biggest ace at Salzburg was his negotiation power and openess. The above quote captures it: Freund was never shy or tight lipped about letting players know that they can take the next step, and make the big move. It is exactly what incentivized players to join him, an opportunity to move abroad, to a bigger club. This is what separates him and other SDs. Freund was never shy to accept his club's situation, and rather even used it to his advantage to land the players he wants.
Freund knew that at Salzburg, it is very rare to keep great talents for long with the limited financial resources (in comparison to the European scene). Freund would rather get a good few years of utility and a large transfer fee to reinvest from his signings, rather than simply 'hold them hostage' at the club.
His negotiations usually involve talks with the player's entire family, which he himself says is 'a great advantage' to sign them over other interested clubs. He says it allows him to put forward his ideas of a player's development to their family, which also involves talking to them about the next step. The Haaland transfer is a perfect example of this, and how Freund managed to lure him to Salzburg amid other interested clubs. It is these skills that he has polished over time which made him a phenomenal SD, and a fitting successor to Ralf Rangnick at Salzburg.
Christoph Freund and his star signing Erling Haaland, one where he showed a real eye for talent and brilliant negotiation skill. (Source: MARCA)
He marketed Salzburg as a club, or rather a platform, for talented young players in their late teens to have a shot at professional football, to perform well, take the next step and further their development. It paid off, big time: stars like Haaland, Upamecano, Szoboszlai, the list goes on - all started their career at his club.
FC Bayern comes calling: Servus Freund!
Our new Sporting Director: Christoph Freund! (Soucre: Krone)
The long awaited sacking of club legend and ex Sporting Director and Director of Football Hasan Salihamidžić right before the start of this transfer window left a lot of fans puzzled. It was announced that Uli, KHR and co. would handle the business this season.
It also left fans wondering who the replacement would be, with some touting Uli's friend Eberl, and some rallying for Marco Neppe to take the spot. Well, it is now known that Christoph Freund, who could've joined Chelsea last season, will be our next Sporting Director.
On of my favorite things about Freund is how much he values the identity of the club he would work at. Now, that statement may seem questionable: he spent 17 years at *RB* Salzburg! (he did mention he has always felt comfortable there). But it is a reason he hasn't jumped at every big club that has come in for him. After deciding to stay at Salzburg amidst Chelsea's strong interest, and rejecting RB Leipzig's approach, his interview after accepting the position at Bayern might explain why he didn't take the Chelsea job.
"It's important to me that a club has an identity, and FC Bayern definitely stands for that" -- Christoph Freund, now FC Bayern SD.
Christoph Freund pictured with the Austrian Bundesliga and league cup: a serial winner. (Source: RB Salzburg / Official)
The question is how will he help Bayern? It's no surprise that the requirements of a club are vastly different from Salzburg and Bayern, so what could make this a good move? Bayern don't want to sell promising youngsters! As one could take away from above, Freund adapted himself and changed his focus to predominantly young players at Salzburg. It is this adaptability which also plays a role in making him the SD he is, and it is how he can adapt to our needs.
Style of football is a very important factor at Bayern: Freund understands the importance of it, and has mentioned many times about how important Salzburg's identity is to him. Even Rangnick: who adores Freund for his work, seemed to think it was a great move.
"He lives for his job. In addition to his high level of competence and international network, he also brings a strong personality to the table. He is a great person with absolute integrity. You can only congratulate him and FC Bayern on this step." -- Ralf Rangnick on Christoph Freund's move to FC Bayern.
We will shortly discuss about what his tenure could look like here.
Freund & Neppe: a genius partnership?
There certainly was uncertainty around Marco Neppe staying after Brazzo was sacked. We now know that our Technical Director Neppe and soon to be Sporting Director Freund will partner together for transfers. Neppe's eye for young talent is already a well-known skill, and many of Brazzo's youth signings are also equally attributed to him. A recent example: Neppe was the advocate behind Tel's transfer.
New sporting director Christoph Freund has already agreed to a collaboration with Marco Neppe. They will plan Bayern's squad for the future together with Thomas Tuchel [@kerry_hau]— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) July 18, 2023
However Neppe's greatest strength is his massive connection and network he has built during all his years at Bayern. He is usually our point of contact for most transfer business, and was also very involved in our signings this window. Him, paired with Freund's world class talent ID, negotiation ability and arguably the best scouting network in the world, could see us make more and more smart signings: both established names and talents.
Reunited: Freund & Sauer
To me, one of the most exciting part of getting Freund would be him getting to work with Sauer again. Quick reminder: Jochen Sauer was the ex-CMO/CEO of RB Salzburg, who worked with Freund as Sporting Director together between 2015 to 2017. He then left in 2017 to take up the Director of Youth Development role at FC Bayern, a post which he still holds today.
Herbert Hainer says one of the reasons Christoph Freund was appointed as sporting director is his previous transfer policy involving young talent: "One of our declared strategic goals is to strengthen player development on the Campus" [@SZ] pic.twitter.com/e3tX9uJxB4— Bayern & Germany (@iMiaSanMia) July 19, 2023
What excited me most is this statement from Hainer. Now, we know that Freund and Sauer will once again work directly together at the club, which will mean great things for our Campus: Freund's scouting prowess will undoubtedly establish Bayern's II team as a great option for young prodigies.
Another interesting development is when Sauer's contract renewal was announced, it was also noted that he will be in charge of the LAFC partnership as well, which means Freund will also likely work on it... and who knows better about club partnerships than the man who spent 17 years helping build the RB empire?
Freund's announcement as FC Bayern Sporting Director from September onwards is a great appointment. Unlike Brazzo (ex-club legend), who in retrospect was a decent SD and DoF, Freund having stellar past experience goes well. I think he is the perfect option, all things considered, and will lead us into a glorious era, with the perfect signings that resonate the Mia San Mia spirit. He will bring about better U23 players than ever seen at the club. Oh, and did I forget to mention? He is brilliant when it comes to contract renewals.
It is also worth noting that unlike Brazzo, who was Director of Football (i.e: had a seat at the board), Freund has only been appointed as Sporting Director (no board seat). However, an eventual promotion might be a possibility, as was the case with Brazzo.
Thank you for making it this far. Reading this mammoth of a piece probably took quite a while of your time, so I thank you for that. Writing this piece required a TON of research (literally, I had to visit obscure sources to find his interviews, including watching a German interview of his on YT: my German knowledge is at the level of a kinder-gardener).
I hope this article helped you learn about Freund and serves as a future point of reference about him, his philosophy and his career (his Wikipedia and Transfermarkt are very limited). I am very excited about him, and all of you should be too. Gone is the era of seeing Brazzo and Kahn next to new signings: it is time for Dressen and Freund. Till the next one!