Rise And Fall Of Russian Big Club, Anzhi Makhachkala
Once upon a time, around a decade ago, Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala were becoming a real problem for Europe’s biggest clubs.
Twenty years after being founded in 1991, the Eagles were bankrolled by Dagestani billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, who had the ambition of making the yellow minnows a considerable force on the continental stage.
But following a series of financial struggles, Anzhi were staggeringly considered extinct as of 2022. The club simply no longer exists.
Upon purchasing the club in 2011, wealthy oligarchy Kerimov immediately went on the attack in the transfer market as he began to target a host of big names in an attempt to put Anzhi’s name on the map.
And it worked. Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos was the first to sign on the dotted line before other top talents from both South America and Europe including Jucilei, Atletico Mineiro attacker Diego Tardelli and Moroccan winger Mbark Boussoufa, respectively, arrived in Dagestan on lucrative contracts.
By this point, plans were now being accelerated at full throttle but in order to attract a certain calibre of talent, the riches of Anzhi only went so far. The Russian Premier League remained a difficult sell, particularly without Champions League football.
Nonetheless, the hierarchy continued to target both highly-rated prospects and experienced players who would bring a winning mentality to Russia as they began to compete with clubs within Europe’s top five domestic leagues for signatures that were in demand.
Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak, who had been of interest to Liverpool, arrived in the summer of 2021 while Anzhi were also able to entice Yuri Zhirkov into a return to his homeland from Chelsea.
But undoubtedly the biggest signing of them all came in the form of ex-Barcelona frontman Samuel Eto’o, who arrived from Inter Milan on a world-record annual salary worth an estimated £18million.
It was the first time a genuine, world-class player and household name made the plunge and there was a sense more would now follow with Eto’o seemingly identified as a potential trailblazer for Anzhi’s cash-thirsty project.
In the second half of the season, ex-Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink was installed as manager while Blackburn Rovers centre-back Christopher Samba turned his back on the Premier League to join following a £12m agreement between the two clubs.
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While Brazilian veteran Carlos had announced that he would be retiring at the end of the season, the legendary left-back was still able to help Anzhi qualify for Europe in their first full season under the new regime.
They finished fifth in the Russian Premier League and would therefore get the chance to participate in the Europa League during the 2012/13 season.
Big names continued to arrive in the transfer market in the form of ex-Chelsea, Arsenal and Real Madrid defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra and Willian, who joined for a club-record fee of £31m from Shakhtar Donetsk.
English clubs had also been fighting it out for both of their signatures but Anzhi’s eye-watering finances proved the difference to the annoyance of the Premier League.
Willian was a club-record signing for Anzhi before he signed for Chelsea (Image: Getty)
That season, Anzhi would beat Liverpool 1-0 in Russia to qualify for the knockout stages of the Europa League where they were eventually stopped in their tracks by Newcastle in the last 16.
Hiddink would later resign at the end of the season after defeat in the Russian Cup final to CSKA Moscow following a disappointing third-place finish in the league.
The Anzhi circus was now in full force with investor Kerimov frustrated by the lack of success on the pitch – despite their sharp rise to prominence.
Rene Meulensteen was sacked just over two weeks after replacing Hiddink and tensions behind the scenes were not reaching boiling point as Kerimov began to slash Anzhi’s budget.
Eto’o and Willian were both sold to Chelsea while Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and Aleksandr Kokorin were also flogged to Dynamo Moscow in a cut-price package after costing the club nearly £45m in transfer fees.
Samba also returned to the Premier League as the wheels began to fall off. Anzhi would finish last in the table – recording just three domestic wins all season – as they were relegated from the top-flight.
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From that moment on, it soon became clear that Anzhi’s dream had died. They would later return to the Russian Premier League, only to be relegated again in the 2017/18 campaign.
But bigger problems were ahead. The money was no longer there and licensing issues saw the club threatened with administration in the summer of 2019, an issue Anzhi would never truly recover from.
They soldiered on and vowed to compete in the third tier of Russian football with a team largely made up of their youth players but in June 2022 their licence was finally revoked by the Russian Football Union after failing to address their off-field issues meaning sadly Anzhi are no more.
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