In early August, the Russian football community went into meltdown. Anzhi were slashing their budget, prompting rumours of a fire sale at every turn – Eto’o here, Willian there, Russian internationals on buy one get one free. Kerimov was cutting back, they said, and the rest of the world stood back and laughed as the Anzhi project appeared set to crumble.
Purely due to the lack of games played and the relatively short period of time that has elapsed, it is hard to see how severe the impact will be. There have been plenty of sales in Makhachkala, but to suggest that Anzhi are on the verge of complete and utter implosion look wide of the mark, if for no other reason than the cash they look to have earned by selling off their big earners – cutting their wage bill to a quarter of its former size.
One intriguing aspect was the rumoured destinations of Anzhi’s plethora of domestic and international stars. Perhaps unsurprisingly, Zenit were mooted as a future home of some of the bigger earners, as perhaps the only club to be able to compete with Anzhi’s previous luxury budget. Overseas, only the attacking duo of Eto’o and Willian attracted any attention, leaving the domestic market as the place to be to snap up any millionaires fleeing Dagestan.
Yet, Zenit aside, the usual suspects were nowhere to be seen. CSKA, reigning champions and a side on the rise under the watchful eye of Leonid Slutsky, were nowhere to be seen, operating on a smaller budget and dealing far more shrewdly in the transfer market. Similarly Spartak, hardly known for their thrift in recent years, were not seriously linked to any of the Anzhi stars – although they did pick up Joao Carlos as an emergency measure.
Krasnodar, another billionaire-backed side, were half-linked to one or two names, but with managerial upheaval and a slow and steady process similar to the one now advocated by the Anzhi leadership, such deals are unlikely to say the least. Lokomotiv, backed to the hilt by Russian Railways, managed to secure Lassana Diarra and Mbark Boussoufa to bolster their midfield but none of the headline-hitting targets look set for Cherkizovo.
Instead, the one name that seems to be cropping up time and time again is that of Dinamo – Dan Petrescu’s largely quiet, unassuming, youthful squad, who overcame a shocking start to last season to narrowly miss out on Europe. Over pre-season, they were unable to stop young starlet Ivan Solovyev moving to St Petersburg, and their only signings of note have been the free transfer of former FC Twente centre back Douglas and the dual capture of Alan Kasaev and Vladimir Dyadyun from Rubin – hardly deals to set the world alight, so why are they suddenly involved.
The move for Aleksandr Kokorin is obvious – a Dinamo boy through and through, he left to Anzhi just months ago when a €20m bid triggered a release clause. He’d never shown any hint of wanting to leave, so an immediate return for the forward would make a great deal of sense.
A far greater factor however, is the change of presidency which went largely unnoticed outside of Russia. Midway through July, Gennady Solovyev stepped aside, allowing Boris Rotenberg to take the lead role.
Fans of KHL ice hockey may recognise the Rotenberg name – Boris is the brother of Arkady, who owns the Dinamo Moscow ice hockey side. Since taking control of the old interior ministry side, Arkady has spent a sizeable chunk of his $3.3 billion fortune on reversing their fortunes, taking them back to the top of the Russian game.
Boris is no pauper, linked in small way to the oil, gas, banking and construction industries – the four pillars on which much of the Russian economy stands. A billionaire in his own right, Rotenberg’s involvement with the footballing operation is as yet unknown, but with a mandate to improve the fortunes of one of the country’s most well-known sides, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that he would wish to splash out and join in the fun as Anzhi fall.
Yet thoughts of Dinamo becoming the next Anzhi are somewhat premature, if only for the nature of the players that have been linked with the old secret police side. Along with Kokorin, Dinamo were been linked endlessly, and finally signed, controversial midfielder and national team captain Igor Denisov, ex-Chelsea man Yuri Zhirkov, Aleksei Ionov and keeper Vladimir Gabulov. What do the five (Chris Samba discounted) have in common? They are of course, all Russian.
Dinamo’s ethos, Rotenberg’s money notwithstanding, have historically lent itself towards the purchase and development of domestic players. In the mid-2000s came the arrival of a bunch of expensive Portuguese flops, and ever since the club has been determined to stick at their youth first, Russian first squadbuilding tactic. The assumed racism of some Russian clubs is absent, replaced in the fans’ eye by simple national pride. For years Dinamo were the base from which the Soviet national side was built – it would appear they wish to be so again.
They are now well on their way. With Gabulov between the sticks, Vladimir Granat and Nikita Chicherin potentially future internationals in defence, Zhirkov and Denisov joining Artur Yusupov in midfield and a young attacking line of Kokorin, Dyadyun and Andrei Panyukov, there is plenty of domestic talent for Petrescu and his staff to choose from, not to mention Alan Gatagov and Pavel Solomatin on loan at Anzhi.
With Anzhi out of the title race, Dinamo, with their newfound wealth and raft of incoming Russian internationals, could find themselves back in the top bracket that they left what seems like such a long time ago. With Zenit, CSKA and a resurgent Spartak currently leading the charge, Dinamo fans can realistically harbour hopes of becoming at least the fourth wheel on the Russian football wagon. From there, with the right backing and astute signings, there could be little limit on their future progress.