FC Anzhi Makhachkala are currently one side that are never too far away from the gaze of the European media. With it’s well known funding it has managed to raise the profile of Russian football and dispel nonsense myths, especially in Western Europe, that the standard of football in Russia is sub-standard. The side in recent years have lured the likes of highly respected manager Guus Hiddink and Roberto Carlos as a player before he took up the role of Sporting Director at the club. Samuel Eto’o, Christopher Samba, Yuri Zhirkov and Brazilian centre back Ewerton are just some of the names Anzhi fans have the pleasure of watching. And now, there may be much, much more on the way.
Not content with capturing another stellar name Lassana Diarra on loan from Real Madrid, Anzhi have swooped down ambitiously on a shell-shocked Benfica with a big bag of money- €90 million’s worth to be precise according to numerous media outlets. Axel Witsel, Rodrigo and Nicolas Gaitan are reportedly the three players targeted by the raid. Perhaps the move is a well planned one by the club who are possibly answering Hiddink’s claims that his side are “lacking depth”.
This splurge of spending begs the question: what will the consequences be for Russian football at large?
On the positive side Anzhi have managed to qualify for their first ever Europa League group after finishing 5th last season in the Russian Premier League and negotiating a number of tricky qualifying ties. Such is the rise of the Russian club that the fans, players and board members will all be looking to push on and make a statement against the more established sides Liverpool, Udinese and the tricky Swiss outfit Young Boys. Anzhi are defiantly a highly talented side capable of emulating former winners CSKA Moscow and Zenit Saint Petersburg in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Such competitiveness reflects very well on the league as a whole and might persuade a few more household names across Europe and beyond to take the plunge into what is very much an underrated and difficult league.
Everybody knows money doesn’t guarantee immediate success. Certainly Anzhi’s 5th place finish last season is testament to this claim. Samuel Eto’o has been critical of the side asking the question why his fellow team-mates aren’t targeting top spot in the league despite Anzhi being “recently a modest club”. Anzhi in the years ahead will no doubt be pushing the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg and the big Moscow club’s for a league title. This will only serve to make compulsive viewing and give the league an air of unpredictability that is so obviously lacking from the two biggest European football leagues. A football fan need look no further than the thrilling manner in which another super rich side Manchester City returned their investment last season.
There are those that allay their fears that such grotesque spending will result in Anzhi walking to the league title season after season. I for one do not subscribe to this view. In Ligue 1 last season a modest Montpellier side with a modest budget secured the league title over Goliath proportion spending PSG.
Money is not in short supply in the Russian Premier League either it has to be remembered. A total of six clubs qualify for European competitions, ensuring an even distribution of money. In fact Anzhi might worry the big Russian clubs enough to spend their money and lure more talented footballers to the league which certainly benefits the average fan. This rise in talent will then be brought onto the European stage, just as Anzhi will be hoping to do in the Europa League this season. Financial fair play might hope to put a stop to such spending but it’s potential effectiveness is completely unknown at this moment in time.
With two Russian representatives in the UEFA Champions League group stages this season in the shape of Zenit and Spartak Moscow, Anzhi will certainly have a difficult task on their hands to usurp these much bigger clubs with a more established structure and history in domestic terms. This is a far cry from those fears that Anzhi will buy out the league each season. The league should embrace the challenge to fend off a potential super-power in the making. Sometimes a new challenger to the crown is much needed as it can freshen up the field and raise the bar for everyone to follow.
If nothing else the money will allow a previously small club to enjoy the high life of challenging for silverware and give those Anzhi fans European ties and memories they will always cherish.
Suleyman Kerimov will certainly be looking to drag the club up to new heights and by doing so he just might be unwittingly dragging the rest of the league alongside him.