Europa League: Tottenham ready to face Anzhi Makhachkala side shorn of expensive talent
Suleyman Kerimov's project to turn small club in Dagestan into one of Europe's strongest through sheer weight of cash is over
Wednesday 02 October 2013
Tottenham Hotspur have arrived in Makhachkala but the circus has already left town. The big names - Guus Hiddink, Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto'o - have all gone, no longer performing for the billionaire showman who just wanted to bring some entertainment to his home region.
The supporting cast too - Christopher Samba, Lassana Diarra, Willian, Yuri Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and the rest - have all followed, finding other clubs to employ them now that Suleyman Kerimov has dramatically turned the tap off.
Kerimov's project, launched less than three years ago, to turn this small club in Dagestan into one of Europe's strongest through sheer weight of cash, is over. With all the coaches and the players gone, it is not just that their forward momentum has stopped. Anzhi are in rapid collapse. They are the worst team in the Russian Premier League so far this season, the only team without a win, currently 16th out of 16, behind Terek Grozny and Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast.
Anzhi will now not win the Russian Premier League for some time. They may take a while to match their 2012 and 2013 finishes of fifth and third. Their defeat on penalties to CSKA Moscow in the Russian Cup final in June might be the closest they get to silverware.
Since then, everything has gone wrong. Kerimov has been distracted all summer by a damaging row with Belarus and its president Alexander Lukashenko over the collapse of their potash export alliance, which led last month to Belarus asking Interpol to arrest him.
Within the club itself, tension had grown over the increased power of the foreign players - led by Eto'o, on an annual salary of €20million - at the expense of the Russians. Roberto Carlos, who worked as team director, left in June to work for Sivasspor in Turkey.
When later explaining his departure, Roberto Carlos pointed to Eto'o's growing influence.
“With the arrival of Eto'o, with the values of everyone involved, I had some little problems in the dressing room and had to talk to the Russian players and explain why Eto'o was there,” he told Brazilian newspaper Globo.
“However, a moment arrived when Eto'o thought to interfere with my work, to control the club, taking my position and that of Guus [Hiddink, the coach]. We talked about one thing, and then he went to the players and talked about another.”
Soon enough, Roberto Carlos was gone and in July Hiddink - sensing that something was wrong - followed him, along with coaches Andrei Gordeiev and Ton du Chatinier. Rene Meulensteen, signed after he left Manchester United, was made manager. He lasted 16 days.
Anzhi, trying to counter-balance Eto'o's influence, also spent the summer buying Russian players, including national team captain Igor Denisov and wonder-kid Aleksandar Kokorin. The famously outspoken Denisov did not approve of Eto'o's influence, to say the least, and the dressing room was split in two.
This season did not begin well and a 1-0 home defeat to Rostov on 2 August was the last straw. An exasperated Kerimov announced the restructuring of the club finances and that all the big names were up for sale.
That was Willian, Samba and Diarra's last game for Anzhi. Eto'o played two more. He is now at Chelsea, of course, along with Willian. Dynamo Moscow bought back Kokorin, one month after selling him, along with Zhirkov, Denisov and Samba, who had just returned from Queens Park Rangers. Diarra went to Lokomotiv Moscow.
Of the bigger names, only Lacina Traore and Jucilei da Silva remain, but they will surely be sold in time. There are more players from Dagestan than before, and local coach Gadzhi Gadzhiyev is back in charge. They are considering moving their training ground back home from Moscow. The party is over.
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