It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.
Friends in high places.
Two phrases that serve to sum up recent developments in Anji Makhachkala’s pursuit of their new coach – after Gadzhi Gadzhiev found himself out of the job in late September. Name after name after name have been linked to the job which could arguably be one of the most intriguing in European football. Sven Goran Eriksson, Guus Hiddink and Carlo Ancelotti have all found themselves at the forefront of media speculation – with recent reports going as far as suggesting that Hiddink had verbally agreed to take the reigns in the New Year. However such esteemed, high profile coaches are not the direction in which the club is turning towards.Read More
The growth of football as a major money making tool – in which the obscenely wealthy increasingly place their vast sums of capital within a particular club – has served to change the face of the sport in its upper echelons. It seems that owners are, like never before, becoming the personalities through which their club is perceived by the wider world. It’s a fascinating development that one could suggest overshadows what the club has managed to achieve in a previous age.
However despite the growth of public interest in the owners of football clubs there are often middlemen who work behind the scenes to ensure that various aspirations are attained. Anji Makhachkala, for example, are a club who have increasingly found themselves beneath European football’s unflinching spotlight. The vast sums of money that have served to entice a variety of previously out of reach talent has sparked both jealousy, derision and rejoicing, depending on where your allegiances lie.
Suleyman Kerimov – the man whose vast fortune is lining Anji’s coffers – may be the leading man when one thinks of the club’s meteoric rise however other figures may ultimately prove to be key to future successes.
Anji’s decision to appoint Alan Soziev as Sporting Director – or Director of Football in its English guise – is a move that expresses the continued sense of seriousness with which the club are taking forward. Soziev’s position within the club will see him take the reigns of a transfer policy that has resembled something of a scatter gun approach over the past twelve months. It will fall upon the shoulders of Soziev to learn from the experiences of his predecessor – the newly appointed Vice President Herman Chistyakov – by adding a sense of focus and concentration within the club.
It would be all too easy to fall into the traps of continuing to offer vast sums of money to players who have turned the wrong side of 30 and who are merely on the prowl for one final pay cheque before their inevitable retirement. The signings of both Balázs Dzsudzsák and Mbark Boussoufa have been expressions of the club punching above their weight when it comes to more realistic transfers however the suspicion remains that the winter may well serve to bring in more experienced, and expensive, talents.
The Chelsea duo of Florent Malouda and Didier Drogba are prime examples of players who Anji will be willing to break to bank for in order to entice to them the North Caucasus. The prestige that comes with signing players who have experienced such illustrious careers is obviously an issue that cannot be ignored by Anji however such lack of foresight will harm the club in the longer term.
UEFA’s Financial Fair Play regulations are an issue that will sit in the back of the minds of each and every major European club for the foreseeable future. The prospect of being banished from the continent’s major club competitions is not one that any club wishes to embrace. However for Russian clubs with major continental aspirations – of which Anji join the likes of Zenit St Petersburg and CSKA Moscow – it will become increasingly difficult to compete on a level footing with clubs from the major European leagues due to the measly financial gains clubs can make in the Russian game.
Minimal financial benefits from the likes of domestic television rights and matchday income – due to relatively poor attendance figures – will make it difficult for Russian clubs to develop in the manner, and at the rate, that they so desire. Anji – more so than both Zenit and CSKA – will find that FFP will be a difficult obstacle to overcome thanks to the fact that their reputation and infrastructure is far less developed than their more illustrious rivals.
But this is the crux of the issue. Anji need players of the reputation of Roberto Carlos and Samuel Eto’o or Malouda and Drogba due to the fact such signings place the club firmly on the map. However the obscene wages and financial losses that are incurred through such signings make it increasingly difficult for the club to meet UEFA’s financial scheme. Thus, Soziev finds himself in a particularly difficult situation.
The need to balance the significant, heavyweight transfers with minor, long term investments is more pertinent than ever as Anji look to build a squad capable of success on as many fronts as physically possible. The likes of Dzsudzsák and Boussoufa are – while still costly – players who the club should be focusing on bring into the Russian game in spite of the fact that they may not create a significant stir within the Western press. Such signings add depth and quality in a manner that provides an increased sense of stability particularly in the face of the signings of Roberto Carlos and Eto’o.
However with Soziev admitting that the club’s search for a new coach will be concluded in the New Year – with Guus Hiddink reportedly verbally agreeing to take charge – the club’s transfer policy may yet remain somewhat unresolved. What is for certain though is that while Anji continue to attempt to snap up European football’s expensive, aging talents then the club will continue to be taken lightly. Anji need to adopt a transfer policy, in the future, that can secure the club’s long term position within European competition while gradually building a side capable of pushing for titles. This is obviously easier said than done however Soziev’s approach over the next month will serve to dictate which direction the club is intent upon taking.Read More
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Russian football and money became so closely intertwined. Success at the highest level is undoubtedly determined partly by balance on the field but also in the bank, with the richer clubs being able to pick and choose the best of their rivals’ talent to bolster their own squad.
Transfers are a good place to look for a sign of wealth, and there are number of high-profile moves which would suggest the growing appeal of the Russian league to overseas players. Vagner Love, CSKA Moscow’s blue-haired talisman, was a big signing back in 2004, but in Eastern Europe the case of a Brazilian searching for a break in European football is by no means a unique one. More recently you might look to Spartak’s signing of Aiden McGeady from Celtic, a deal which almost reached eight figures and showed many casual fans the true purchasing power of the Russian elites. Add to the list the likes of Carlos Eduardo and Obafemi Martins at Rubin Kazan, Bruno Alves and Domenico Criscito at Zenit, and the current cascade of talent pouring into Anzhi Makhachkala, it would be easy to view the Russian Premier League as one of the the up-and-coming leagues in world football.
How much of this is true however, is another matter. There is little doubt that the standard of Russian football has risen considerably in the last decade – both CSKA and Zenit have enjoyed UEFA Cup glory, with the St Petersburg side going on to claim the Super Cup the following season. Russian internationals such as Andrei Arshavin and Roman Pavlyuchenko have earned themselves high profile moves to the Premier League, and for the first time ever, Russia has two clubs still involved in the Champions League after the group stages. Combined with the national team’s strong performance at Euro 2008 and a reasonably comfortable qualification campaign for next year’s tournament in Poland and Ukraine, there are signs that Russian fotball is on the up.
However, a look behind the scenes suggest that there may in fact be trouble in paradise. Outside of the elite clubs – for argument’s sake Zenit, Rubin, the Moscow four and now Anzhi – money is more of a concept than a reality, with players more likely to move clubs on loan or after being released than in a cash transfer, and financial mismanagement at various stages leading to the demise of the likes of Zhemchuzhina Sochi, Saturn Ramenskoye and FC Moscow, whilst Tom Tomsk and Volga Nizhny Novgorod are forced constantly to look over their shoulders, firstly for the looming threat of relegation and secondly for the dark spectre of bankruptcy which could signal the end of the club itself.
Even at the top, the clubs with money are finding it increasingly difficult to actually spend it. With the winter transfer window fast approaching, the number of rumours linking high-profile players into the country are few and far between – Pavlyuchenko to Lokomotiv, Raul to Dinamo. Zenit have plenty of cash but no clearly identified targets, and even billionaire Anzhi are struggling to land their targets. The latest name linked with the Dagestani side? El-Hadji Diouf, hardly the world superstar the Anzhi faithful will have been hoping for.
Instead, the bulk of speculation has been on who is leaving who and for how much, suggesting that many of the top Russian sides will need to rebuild large parts of their squad if they are to remain competitive. CSKA’s Vagner Love is the prime example, although the blue-braided striker has never hidden his desire to leave Moscow after seven years of service. His strike partner Seydou Doumbia looks to be attracting attention from bigger clubs, whilst Spartak are struggling with the notion that Welliton may depart for foreign shores, whilst Rubin potentially face the loss of Argentine fullback Cristian Ansaldi and Italian defender Salvatore Bochetti. Even at the top, there appears to be something of an exodus.
Of course, there is little the clubs can do to prevent it. Bigger clubs, perhaps with greater European pedigree or simply the chance to boost their earnings, will always appeal to players at the peak of their game, and for the non-Russian players there is little competition between a winter spent in St Petersburg or Kazan, and one in Seville, Rome or even Istanbul. The lure of a wider audience, bigger wage packet and prestigious employer is one which most, if not all footballers succumb to, and that in itself is not something which Russian sides are particularly prone to.
However, the problem lies in the next step – attracting the same quality of player to Russia in order to fill the gap. If even Anzhi are struggling, we may well be seeing the start of a talent drain in Russian football, with clubs forced to rely on homegrown youth to stay competitive. More likely, this is simply the start of a new cycle symptomatic of Russia’s status as a footballing nation – big enough to bring quality in, but too small to keep hold of it when the vultures begin to circle. If clubs are to take the next step into Europe’s elite, their new talent must both be good enough to achieve success and adaptable enough to do it quickly. Otherwise, this could be a long cycle.Read More
A lot of people have been critical of Michal Bílek’s tenure as the manager of the Czech Republic national side, myself included. But since the rather dull, abject and frankly depressing performance against Norway, Bílek has turned the squad’s fortunes around and qualified for the European Championship next summer. And to compound matters, in the two-legged fixture against Montenegro the Czech’s looked dynamic, resourceful and resolute; three things that nobody would have said about the eleven that took to the field in Oslo.Read More
Eastern Europe – excluding Russia – has failed once more to find one of its pensioners in the last 16 of the Champions’ League – some twenty years after Red Star Belgrade and twenty five since Steaua Bucarest became the only ever Eastern European winners of the competition.Read More