The inside track on Anzhi, the world's strangest club

Liverpool's opponents tonight travel 1200 miles for a home game. Tim Rich reports

For the men who arrived at John Lennon Airport in Liverpool yesterday, the question was obvious. What first attracted you to Dagestan, with its corruption, ethnic violence and multimillion-dollar contracts?

Anzhi Makhachkala might fairly claim to be the strangest football club in the world. Their players live 1,200 miles from where they play; they visit the city their team is supposed to promote only on match days and under suffocating security. They compete for the championship of a country that a large section of Dagestan's population want to leave. They are among the highest-paid sportsmen on the planet.

Although the salaries paid by Suleyman Kerimov, a secretive billionaire, are enormous, nobody at Anzhi talks about money. When Lassana Diarra signed from Real Madrid, it was because he wanted to be near Samuel Eto'o – "my big brother". Roberto Carlos, who was paid £5m a year, talked of "a great adventure". Eto'o wanted to be "a unifying force". You yearn for the honesty of the Yorkshire fast bowler Paul Jarvis, who said his reason for joining Mike Gatting's ill-fated rebel tour of South Africa in 1990 was "to pay off my mortgage in one go".

This morning, as Anzhi prepare to face Liverpool at Anfield in the Europa League, this hitherto unknown club is top of the Russian league. Behind them in third is another club from the bloodstained Caucasus, Terek Grozny, run by the Chechen warlord Ramzan Kadyrov. Kerimov, said to be worth a mere $17.5bn at the time of the 2008 crash, is a very different kind of oligarch, using cool intelligence rather than Kalashnikovs to make his point.

The Financial Times' Moscow correspondent, Catherine Belton, one of very few to have been given access, found the 46-year-old "charming and sometimes modest", wearing thin, skin-coloured fingerless gloves, the result of grievous burns six years ago after losing control of his black Ferrari Enzo on snow in Nice.

Yet his accident seems to have triggered a desire to rebuild Dagestan and tie it to the Russian motherland. Anzhi's shabby home until their new 45,000-seater arena opens will soon be history. Liverpool and all the other great clubs of Europe will never visit it, but it has certainly been a theatre of dreams – strange dreams.

News
news
Voices
voicesThe Ukip leader on why he's done nothing illegal
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
News
peopleRyan Gosling says yes, science says no. Take the A-list facial hair challenge
VIDEO
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Sport
video
News
Paul Weller, aka the Modfather, performing at last year’s Isle of Wight Festival in Newport
people
News
Supermarkets are running out of Easter Eggs
Deals make eggs cheaper than normal chocolate
Arts & Entertainment
artYouth club owner says mural is 'gift from the sky' so he can prevent closure of venue

Day In a Page

Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal
Supersize art

Is big better? Britain's latest super-sized art

The Kelpies are the latest addition to a growing army of giant sculptures. But naysayers are asking what a pair of gigantic horse heads tells us about Falkirk?
James Dean: Back on the big screen

James Dean: Back on the big screen

As 'Rebel without a Cause' is re-released, Geoffrey Macnab reveals how its star perfected his moody act
Catch-22: How the cult classic was adapted for the stage

How a cult classic was adapted for the stage

More than half a century after it was published 'Catch-22' will make its British stage debut next week
10 best activity books for children

10 best activity books for children

Keep little ones busy this bank holiday with one of these creative, educational and fun books
Arsenal 3 West Ham United 1: Five things we learnt from the battle between the London sides

Five things we learnt from Arsenal's win over West Ham

Arsenal still in driving seat for Champions League spot and Carroll can make late charge into England’s World Cup squad
Copa del Rey final: Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right

Pete Jenson on the Copa del Rey final

Barcelona are paying for their complacency and not even victory over Real Madrid will put things right
Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

Rafa to reign? Ten issues clay courts will serve up this season

With the tennis circus now rolling on to the slowest surface, Paul Newman highlights who'll be making the headlines – and why
Exclusive: NHS faces financial disaster in 2015 as politicians urged to find radical solution

NHS faces financial disaster in 2015

Politicians urged to find radical solution
Ukraine crisis: How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?

Ukraine crisis

How spontaneous are the pro-Russian protests breaking out in Ukraine’s east?
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

The first execution at the Tower of London for 167 years

A history of the First World War in 100 moments
Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

New threat to the Amazon rainforest:

Fires that scorch the ‘lungs of the Earth’
Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City: And the winner of this season’s Premier League title will be...

Who’s in box seat now? The winner of the title will be ...

Who is in best shape to take the Premier League prize?