Anzhi Fall A Warning To All

Anzhi looked like a club on the up both in Russia and in Europe, but in one instant it has all been taken away. Don't pretend that it couldn't happen to your club...

Last Updated: 17/01/14 at 09:36 Post Comment

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You all remember Anzhi Makhachkala, right? The club with all the money? The side with the name that invited the Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V manoeuvre? The Russian team that spent incredible sums on attracting the likes of Samuel Eto'o, Roberto Carlos and a whole lot besides?

Yes, that's them. They finished third in the Russian league last season, reached the last 16 of the Europa League and were installed as joint-second favourites for the domestic title before the season started in mid-July.

It may surprise you, therefore, to take a look at the Russian Premier League table. Rather than challenging Zenit St Petersburg and the four Moscow clubs for a place in the Champions League, Anzhi currently sit rock bottom of the table with 19 games played. They have just eight points, and are yet to win a league game. In fact, Tromso of Norway have been their only defeated opponent since May.

This is a club on its knees. From nothing to all and back to nothing again in the relative blinking of an eye. Forget the heart-warming of story of Sassuolo last week, this is the true modern footballing tale, and it's a story of financial dependency and vulnerability to the whims of one man.

Three years ago, Anzhi Makhachkala were a rather middling club. Only formed in 1991 and based in the capital of the Dagestan Republic, they were first promoted to the Premier League in 1999. Their debut season in the top flight was successful, a fourth-placed finish resulting in UEFA Cup qualification, with a Russian Cup final appearance the following year. 2002 brought relegation back to the second tier, but in 2009 they won the Championship to return once again. Think Middlesbrough or Leicester, perhaps, with no offence or compliment meant to either.

And then, on January 18 2011, billionaire Suleyman Kerimov made a deal to purchase his hometown club. An investor, businessman and politician, Kerimov had continuously courted controversy through his extravagant business dealings, amassing a fortune considered to be in the region of £4.5billion by the age of 45. It was clear that Anzhi would be changed irrevocably and at speed.

By the end of the following month plans had already been made to remodel the club's old Khazar Stadium, increasing capacity to 30,000 (which opened last year), and former Brazilian international Roberto Carlos had been signed on a two-and-a-half year contract worth a reported €10m. Anderlecht's Mbark Boussoufa and Brazilian's Diego Tardelli and Jucilei also joined for a combined €26m - the financial flexing of muscles had truly begun.

That summer, in the Russian mid-season transfer window, things went from ambitious to obscene. Hungarian Balazs Dzsudzs├ík joined for €14m, with Yuri Zhirkov bought from Chelsea for a similar fee. On August 23, 30-year-old Samuel Eto'o was signed from Inter for around €28m. More pertinently, his weekly wage was announced as €400,000 a week. Guus Hiddink was appointed manager, and the Dutchman immediately bought Christopher Samba for €14m. Last season, the club finished third in the league with the signings of Willian and Lacina Traore thrown into the mix for a cool €53m. You almost get desensitised to the eye-watering figures.

If one incident summed up Kerimov's indulgence, it came in April 2011. Just two months after signing from Corinthians, Roberto Carlos celebrated his 38th birthday. Leaving his party in one of Makhachkala's hotels, the owner presented Carlos with the keys to a Bugatti Veyron worth €1.8m. If you didn't laugh, you'd cry.

And then, in August, with Anzhi considered serious contenders for both the Russian title and the Europa League, came the quotes that astounded Dagestan's public. The term used by club president Konstantin Remchukov was "reformatting", but the rough translation was 'fire sale'. Kerimov has decided, it appeared, that he no longer wished to bankroll Anzhi.

Whether the move was linked to Kerimov's recent £325m loss (a reminder that Kerimov's fortune is still at £4.5bn) in a business transaction involving one of his companies, Uralkali, or whether the plaything had simply lost its charm and the owner sought a new fix, we may never know, but one thing is evident - Kerimov had had enough and Anzhi had been instantly devastated.

The club's day-to-day budget was instantly reduced by 75%, meaning that Eto'o, WIllian, Samba, Traore and Lassana Diarra all left the club shortly after, followed by Russian internationals Zhirkov, Igor Denisov, Oleg Shatov, Aleksei Ionov and Aleksandr Kokorov, a squad decimated through the inability to even meet the wage bill with the economic restrictions placed upon them by their owner.

To recap, Anzhi are bottom of the Russian Premier league, and will almost certainly be relegated back to the first division. The remaining remotely high-profile players (including former Manchester City midfielder Abdul Razak and Brazilian Ewerton) will leave, and the club will be in its worst position since formation.

That may be an intriguing tale to read, but don't kid yourself that this is nothing but an interesting aside to your working day. Kerimov didn't break the rules, and he would presumably be welcomed with open arms in England if he wished to purchase a middling Premier League club. And, when he again decided he was bored of the ride, he would step off and letit career off the tracks.

Furthermore, there are plenty more like him. This week has seen Hull owner Assem Allam threaten to walk away from Hull unless he was able to rename the club, effectively holding supporters and the Football Assocation to ransom. Having put in £60million of his own money Allam does deserve praise, but is there any reason to suggest he may not demand his investment back should he finish his long-winded toy-tossing? "I wouldn't allow the club to be in any risk," was Allam's promise in November, "as long as I am not deprived of the opportunity to make money for it."

In south Wales too, Vincent Tan continues his determined mission to rule Cardiff with his iron fist after changing club badge, kit colour and the very ethos of the club. Should he walk, he will be owed £66m, and we can be certain that he will take his share.

Three years ago on Sunday, Kerimov changed a club forever with one waft of his chequebook. We may bury our heads in the sand, refusing to believe that our beloved clubs are nothing more than toys in the hands of the richest and most powerful. But that's exactly where some uncomfortably sit.

Supporters may be desperate for their clubs to spend in order to keep up with the footballing Joneses, but the perversely speedy upturn and downfall of Anzhi is a warning to those that want their club to grow in anything other than a financially sustainable and independent way - be careful what you wish for.

Daniel Storey - follow him on Twitter

*taps his sparkling red high heels together* whispers: "please happen to Chelsea, please happen to Chelsea, please happen to Chelsea"
- DiamondLights

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