Europa League: Can Anzhi Makhachkala Put Dagestan on the Football Map?

Ian RodgersWorld Football Staff WriterMarch 6, 2013

Striker Samuel Eto'o has played a starring role for Anzhi.
Striker Samuel Eto'o has played a starring role for Anzhi.Epsilon/Getty Images

The rise of Anzhi Makhachkala has seen a Russian region previously renowned for conflict celebrating something special on a football field.

Situated in the Dagestan region of the country, near the war-torn Chechnya region, Makhachkala was described by BBC News as "the most dangerous place in Europe" in November of 2011.

But Anzhi are on the rise and will line up against Newcastle United in the Europa League last-16 first leg on Thursday with a renewed sense of pride, a world away from the devastation of previous years.

The club have only been in existence since 1991, when they were formed by ex-Dynamo Makhachkala player Magomed-Sultan Magomedov and entered the Dagestan League.

Anzhi entered the third tier of the Russian League in 1992 following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and would reach the Premier Division in 1999.

The club first came to some European prominence in September of 2001, when then-Glasgow Rangers chairman Sir David Murray stopped his team from travelling to the Dagestan region for their UEFA Cup tie after Anzhi had finished fourth in the Russian Premier League.

Murray was concerned at the security in the area despite UEFA saying the match must go ahead. The Scottish club released a statement indicating their intention not to travel in September of 2001, as reported by the Daily Telegraph.

Within 24 hours of the statement, the atrocities committed on the World Trade Center in New York would underline Murray's concern about terrorist activities.

UEFA postponed the ties scheduled for Sept. 12 as a mark of respect and eventually agreed to Rangers playing Anzhi in a one-off tie in Warsaw, Poland.

Ten years later, Anzhi was bought by Dagestan multimillionaire businessman Suleyman Kerimov, who made an immediate impact when he persuaded Brazil international Roberto Carlos to join the club.

Later arrivals would include Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea and Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan. These were serious signals of intent from the club. The arrival of Guus Hiddink as manager in February 2012 was another sign that Anzhi meant business.

Hiddink might have left the club in November, but that has not halted the team's progress, and they are currently second in the Russian Premier League, two points behind CSKA Moscow.

With the financial muscle of Kerimov behind them, Anzhi are becoming a major power on the Russian scene with notable squad members such as Eto'o and Zhirkov supplemented by the arrivals of Lassana Diarra and Willian.

This Europa League campaign may not end in glory at the Amsterdam Arena in May, but there will be plenty of major clubs noting the rise of Anzhi.