Often when a team suddenly comes into money, they don’t know how to react. Teams who shock their way to Champions League qualification regularly end up running out of cash as they panic to stay there as wily agents scramble to get the best deal for aging veterans who are past their best, clubs throw money at mediocre signings to stay ahead of the competition, and in the end the project ends in failure – for those most familiar with the English game, see the likes of Portsmouth and, to an extent, Notts County, for examples of how not to build teams, even without the poisoned chalice of a one-off Champions League jackpot.
So, when billionaire Suleyman Kerimov took the reins of Anzhi Makhachkala in January 2011, those acquainted with the Russian game were understandably cautious when it came to the most talked-about club in world football. They were the Russian equivalent of Manchester City, PSG and Malaga, ready to take Russia and Europe by storm – but were they going to do it properly? The acquisition of Roberto Carlos and improbable signing of Samuel Eto’o did little to dispel the doubts, as Anzhi appeared to be interested only in short-term quality rather than looking to build success.
However, the transfers which accompanied the big two were far more impressive. Anzhi showed that they still have on eye firmly on the future by snapping up the likes of Viktor Kuzmichyov and Arseniy Logashov – neither Russian has yet featured for the first team, but they are promising talents and will help fulfill the homegrown player quota in years to come, years in which the Dagestani side are hoping to add top global talent to their ranks.
Anzhi also took many by surprise in their overseas recruiting policy. Alongside the Eto’os of the world came bright young talents and footballers in the prime of their careers – Jucilei and Diego Tardelli joined Roberto and Joao Carlos in the Brazilian contingent, Yuri Zhirkov arrived to much fanfare from Chelsea, Morocco’s present and future came with Mbark Boussoufa and Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez, and Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak, chased by most of Europe, arrived ready to turn Anzhi into title contenders and a genuine European force.
Fast-forward to the current transfer window, however, and the situation is a little different. With two thirds of Russia’s longest season already complete, Anzhi find themselves languishing in 7th place, on the edge of a cluster of teams scrabbling for the European scraps left behind by traditional powerhouses Zenit and CSKA. Manager Gadzhi Gadzhiev was shown the door to end his third spell in charge of the club, and Yuri Krasnozhan was poached from Russia’s ‘B’ side despite speculation involving a whole host of managers including the likes of Guus Hiddink. The message from the top down was clear – mediocrity will not be tolerated, and those not performing will be discarded without sentiment.
This winter’s transfers then, are proving far more telling. There is no shortage of money in Kerimov’s account, but a combination of the impending Financial Fair Play rules and the need to field enough Russian nationals means that it is the expensive imports who will be first out of the revolving Dagestani door. The regulations mean that even Anzhi cannot afford to have a bench full of expensive, under-performing foreigners, and Krasnozhan has been quick to make his mark – first Diego Tardelli left to Qatari side Al-Gharafa, unable to break into the side after a 13 game goalless streak and the inevitable form of Samuel Eto’o. However, the money recouped from that sale was not enough to fund Anzhi’s next foray into the transfer market, and so Dzsudzsak was the next out, domestic rivals Dinamo Moscow meeting a €19m release clause to take the winger to the capital.
Dzsudzsak was hailed as one of Anzhi’s finest signings upon arrival, but just eight underwhelming appearances later the Hungarian will be glad of a new start at a Dinamo side more suited to his style of play. For Anzhi however, it is an ominous sign – even in avoiding the obvious pitfalls of expendable income, their scouting network and overseas contacts have yet to constantly provide them with players who have the ability in shine in the Premier League, potential to take on Europe and adaptability to become part of a coherent team in Makhachkala. Their transfer activity so far this window has been more restrained, and these considerations will certainly be taken into account.
Whether Krasnozhan’s men spend big this January or not, there is speculation that Dinamo’s excesses could spark a busy period in the Russian market – they are rumoured to be chasing Rubin vice-captain Christian Noboa, and any fee involved would almost certainly be spent by the Kazan side on a replacement. Combined with Zenit’s large budget and CSKA’s need to keep pace at the top, there is certainly reason to speculate that the month could be a busy one for managers and agents alike. What the lessons of Anzhi thus far can tell us is that money alone is not enough, and that even the most well paid scouts have to earn their wage.