World Football: Why Anzhi Makhachkala Cash has Failed to Translate Into Success
Russian football received something of a shock on Wednesday as Anzhi Makhachkala owner Suleyman Kerimov made it known he was cutting the club off from its lavish funding, in favour of a more manageable approach.
Anton Kolodyazhnyy of Reuters.com reported how the budget to run the club would be cut by more than half, from around $180 million per year to just $50-70 million.
James Appell reports for the BBC that Anzhi took this course "having analysed the club's recent sporting results, the decision has been taken to work on a new long-term strategy for the club," suggesting that the owner was disappointed with the lack of success that his lavish spending brought to the Dagestan club.
While the club and it's players might be disappointed at the decision, it's a reminder of what can happen to the ever-growing number of hugely bankrolled clubs if their financial backers suddenly decide enough is enough.
So why didn't Anzhi's big spending yield bigger success?
Short term rise, but success takes an age
Kerimov took over Anzhi in 2011, with the team having finished 11th in Russia's 16-team top flight during the 2010 season.
The following campaign saw them just about finish in the top half at the end of the first league phase, when the division split in two, before a strong finish meant they ended the campaign in fifth place overall. The spending had started, which saw the likes of Jucilei, Joao Carlos, Diego Tardelli and Mbark Boussoufa arrive at the team, and helped propel them to a higher league finish.
Already an improvement of six places from the previous season, Anzhi and Kerimov of course wanted better from the following campaign.
An estimated combined £80 million was spent on the transfer fees of Samuel Eto'o, Chris Samba, Yuri Zhirkov, Balasz Dzsudzsak and Lacina Traore over the next two years as Anzhi continued to build a squad capable of challenging for honours. Anzhi also added Brazilian attacker Willian to their squad in January for a fee of around £31 million, and they were rewarded with a third-place finish in the Russian Premier League in the season just finished.
It's been a reasonable and respectable surge from 11th to third in just two and a half years under the Kerimov regime, but anything more substantial was always going to take at least that long, if not more.
This season Anzhi wanted to challenge for the league title.
Summer dealings included bringing Samba back for a second spell, adding Igor Denisov from key rivals Zenit St. Petersburg and signing up Aleksandr Kokorin from Dinamo Moscow after he scored 10 goals in 22 games last season, a total outlay of £45 million, with next to nothing coming back in from departures.
Rene Meulensteen was also appointed as new manager after Guus Hiddink's exit.
Four games into the season, Anzhi have drawn two and lost two, and the Anzhi experiment is over. They lie in 13th place with two points, and even though it is so early in the campaign, do not look a side ready to challenge Zenit and CSKA Moscow for the Russian Premier League title.
Kerimov wanted and expected the success to follow the money in rapid succession, but he needs only look at Roman Abramovich and Chelsea to realise that such huge investments do not pay off immediately. Having taken over in 2003, it took Abramovich and his spending until 2012 for Chelsea to finally lift the Champions League title—four times the span of the Kerimov era at Anzhi, who haven't even managed to qualify for that competition yet.
A domestic cup might have stayed Kerimov's attentions and ambitions a little longer—but even that prize was bitterly lost after CSKA Moscow beat Anzhi on penalties in the Russian Cup final in June.
Top rate pay without similar return of quality
It's all well and good splashing out humongous fees on star names, but for the footballing prizes to follow, the talent has to match the price tag.
While Eto'o, Denisov and others might be established internationals with long records of winning, Lacina Traore has far from proven himself a top European striker, yet Anzhi paid £16 million for him. Taking into account his two moves, Anzhi have spent £23 million on Samba, who was relegated and out of the team at QPR last season.
Too many of the deals, while offering big wages and the chance to compete for trophies, were shelling out top-rate sums of money on transfers while only bringing in second-tier players in return.
A large turnover of the squad in a short space of time also no doubt made it difficult for the side to grow together, while the club has also only recouped around £38 million in transfer fees after spending more than £205 million since 2010-11.
The players brought in for huge money were not worth the expenditure, and it has showed in numerous cases when the time came to sell those initial purchases back on. More will likely come to light in the coming transfer windows if Anzhi are forced to sell the high earners to make up for the lost income from Kerimov.
While Hiddink made a good impact in his time as manager, his "hand-picked replacement", according to the BBC, has lasted just 16 days.
Meulensteen becomes the fifth manager to depart under the Kerimov era, after Gadzhi Gadzhiev was dismissed eight months after the owner's arrival, Andrey Gordeev lasted just two months, and Yury Krasnozhan only three.
In addition, veteran left-back Roberto Carlos went from player to assistant caretaker to team director in a short space of time, before leaving for Sivasspor in Turkey in June because he was not promised a coaching role at the Russian club.
It's fair to say that the couple of years under Kerimov's reign have been tumultuous in a number of ways for Anzhi Makhachkala, and a club that has not been allowed to catch its breath or have ample time to properly challenge for major trophies suddenly now finds itself facing an altogether different future.
The Russian Premier League title that Kerimov wanted never arrived, and nor did Champions League football. Anzhi have gone from a bottom-half side to a top-three one in less than three years, but the greatest challenge now has changed.
It should have been to take the final steps over the next year or two to sustain themselves as a power domestically and win the league title.
Instead, they'll face a battle to manage the finances, try to stop the revolving door of management and possibly even survive a free-fall into the lower reaches of the league once more.
Transfer fees and financial data from transfermarkt.co.uk
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