Just one month ago FC Anzhi, a Russian football club based in Makhachkala, the capital of the Republic of Dagestan, were ambitious enough to aim to win the Russian Football Premier League as well as UEFA’s Europa League.
With some of the world’s best players in the team – including attacking midfielder Willian and striker Samuel Eto’o – the mission didn’t seem impossible.
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However the club is experiencing dramatic change. There are no longer such ambitious goals on the list.
Anzhi’s Russian billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov has decided to significantly reduce the club’s budget and sell all its expensive players, putting ‘The Anzhi project’ to an end.
The extravagant $180m budget is now to be reduced to around $50-70m per year. Despite a poor start to the Russian season, Anzhi’s change of heart was totally unexpected and has stunned many. Head coach Rene Meulensteen, a former assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United has been sacked by the Makhachkala team just 16 days after being appointed.
In a tumultuous week the club lost 12 of its top players, including Cameroonian Eto’o, Brazilian Willian and Russian national team players Igor Denisov, Yury Zhirkov and Aleksandr Kokorin.
Former Anzhi coach Omari Tetradze says the news on the club’s updated strategy has surprised him, to say the least.
He told Al Jazeera: “I don’t think it would have happened if Anzhi had won Russia’s Premier League last season or had at least been successful in the last four games.
Suleyman Kerimov doesn't need those expensive top players anymore. He is disappointed that the team failed in the Russian Championship... Looks like Anzhi has lost its biggest fan
“Suleyman Kerimov doesn’t need those expensive top players anymore. He is disappointed that the team failed in the Russian Championship and will not now get a chance to take part in the Champions League. Looks like Anzhi has lost its biggest fan”.”
Kerimov bought Anzhi Makhachkala in January 2011 and spent heavily to turn the team of his native Dagestan into one of the most ambitious football clubs in Europe. Football lovers around the world were amazed by the amount of Anzhi’s spending, including a reported $26m wage bill for Samuel Eto’o, making him the highest paid footballer in the world.
Such extravagant spending defiantly put Dagestan on the football map.
After finishing in third place last season hopes were high for the Premier League title, but a poor start of the season has destroyed all hopes.
According to the official statement issued by the club’s press service, this lack of success will mean Anzhi changing direction and working on a new long-term strategy for the club. The Dagestan team will invest in developing local talent rather than buying stars from outside.
Budun Budunov, president of the Dagestan’s Football Union thinks that the new strategy will be good for Dagestan, especially for its people. He said: “Whatever happens with Anzhi is for the best. The new team will be closer to Dagestan people than all those foreign stars. It was clear from the beginning that it’s impossible to build a team-champion in one day. It’s the right decision to choose a long-term plan”.
One of the main reasons for the new Anzhi budget policy, as announced by the club, is UEFA’s requirements which are linked with the club’s obligation to comply with financial fair play rules.
But leading Russian football pundit Igor Monichev believes that the rules are only part of the problem why FC Anzhi is sinking.
He told Al Jazeera: “Kerimov bought aging stars who nevertheless took under complete control the atmosphere in the dressing room, established their own rules. That created a deep gap between them and the rest of the team.
“Samuel Eto’o is of course the central personality in all that. I think Kerimov never loved football the way Abramovich fell in love with it before buying Chelsea. Anzhi was a disappointment and it’s unlikely that Kerimov will waste more money in Dagestan. His vanity may push him into European football instead.”