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Anzhi Makhachkala

What happened to Anzhi Makhachkala?

You may be forgiven to assume the richest teams in Europe would include the likes of Real Madrid, PSG and Manchester City but what if I told you a team from Makhachkala – the capital city of Dagestan, Russia – once had a wage bill of over 125 million euros. Superstars such as Roberto Carlos, Willian and Samuel Eto’o were playing for them and legendary Dutch manager Guus Hiddink was in charge, sounds like a fantasy right? This is what happened to Anzhi Makhachkala.

Where is Makhachkala?

Makhachkala is the capital city of the Republic of Dagestan, which was once described as the “Most dangerous place in Europe”. It’s in the southernmost part of Russia and is the largest city in the North Caucasus with a population of around 600,000 people, making it only the nineteenth biggest city in Russia. Most of the republic is mountainous and is covered by the sprawling Caucasus Mountains, which is one of the most incredible mountain ranges in the world! The nature is unbelievably diverse, and benefits from nearly two thousand rivers and around 400 kilometres of coastline on the Caspian Sea.

Unfortunately, Dagestan has been the sight for some brutal combat over the years. The war of Dagestan in 1999 was the largest act of conflict and was caused by an Islamist group from Chechnya invading the Russian republic in an attempt to unify Chechnya and Dagestan under Islamic rule. The war ended around a month later with the Russians crushing the advancing Chechnian forces. There have since been some small scale altercations in the region, but by 2017 all terrorist groups operating in Dagestan had been defeated. However, Dagestan still has the highest levels of violence and extremism in the North Caucasus republics.

Who are Anzhi Makhachkala?

Dagestan has never been a hotbed for Russian football, let alone world football! The most famous sportsman to come from the region is undoubtedly UFC Lightweight Champion Khabib Nurmagomedov. So in 2011 eyebrows were raised when some of the world’s biggest stars were flocking to Dagestan to a team called Anzhi Makhachkala. Founded in 1991, the club started playing its matches in the Dagestan League, before switching third tier of Russian football after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Anzhi finished a respectable fifth position in their first season in the Russian leagues, before going one better the following year to win the league. However, due to some complications, they were denied promotion, therefore they had to wait until 1996 to gain promotion into the first league.

Finally, in 1999 they won their first-ever promotion into the Russian Premier League by winning the first division. In their first season in the top flight, they massively overachieved and finished fourth to claim a spot in the UEFA Cup. They were unfortunately knocked of the UEFA Cup in the first qualifying round, losing 1-0 to Scottish giants Rangers. However, things went downhill from here as they were relegated back into the first league a year later, where they spent the next seven years. A few midtable finishes followed, before a return to the Russian Premier League in 2010. That’s where they stayed until a billionaire turned up!

How did Roberto Carlos end up in a war zone?

Money talks. It’s as simple as that! In January 2011, the club was purchased by Dagestani billionaire Suleyman Kerimov. Once reported to we worth an estimated $17.5 billion, Kerimov made his billions investing mainly in the oil and gold mining industry. Kerimov had huge ambitions for his local club, promising to invest over €200m in infrastructure including plans to build a huge new 40,000 seater stadium.

He wasted no time getting his wallet out during the 2011 winter transfer window, he initially spent around €20 on players. The first most notable was Congolese powerhouse Chris Samba, before Anzhi shocked the world by signing Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos who was a World Cup winner in 2002. Kerimov even gifted him a Bugatti Veyron! Anzhi finished 5th that season, but Kerimov’s spending what nowhere near finished!

So did money buy Anzhi any success?

When the 2011 summer transfer window opened, Anzhi spent around €55m on bringing more high profile players to Dagestan. These new signings including Russian international Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea, and most notably Samuel Eto’o. He was signed from Italian giants Inter Milan, agreeing a staggering world record salary worth around €20.5 million a year! Legendary Dutch and former Real Madrid and Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink was also appointed head coach. So it wasn’t surprising to see that in the following season, Anzhi recorded their best-ever finish in the Russian Premier League.

Anzhi finished 3rd to secure automatic qualification into the group stages of the Europa League for the first time. Anzhi caused a huge upset in the competition, first beating then five time Champions League winners Liverpool in the group stages to advance to the next round, where they defeated Bundesliga outfit Hannover before crashing out to Newcastle United in the last 16. Still, not a bad effort.

Looking to build on the previous seasons success, Anzhi started the 2013/14 season in the same fashion as the previous season, entering the transfer market and spending big money again. However, disaster struck! Kerimov decided to reduce the team’s annual budget by two-thirds, citing a sharp deterioration in his health caused by the club’s lack of instant success. These budget cuts lead to a mass exodus of every single big-name player.

The cuts were devastating for Anzhi! They finished the season rock bottom of the Russian Premier League after amassing a record-low three wins and 20 points, making them the worst team in European top division football at the time. So to answer the question, money definitely did not buy Anzhi any success!

How are Anzhi getting on these days?

Well, the club failed to get the relevant license to play in the 2019–20 season. As a result, Anzhi will not compete in the first league. Anzhi were given the option of applying for a license to play in the third-tier, otherwise, they’d be potentially on the brink of bankruptcy. Anzhi confirmed that they had received that license, but they were unable to register new players due to outstanding debts. The remaining senior first-team players left the club, leaving only the U-20 players who had played in the youth teams in the previous season.

The future looks bleak for Anzhi, and at the time of writing, they find themselves second bottom of the third tier. A truly sorry state of affairs!

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