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After causing so much trouble last autumn, the departure of Igor Denisov from 3 time Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg has been something which has looked ever more likely, but just as the situation looked to have blown over, the Russian national team captain has shocked the whole of Russia by making the move to Dagestani club Anzhi Makhackala.
For a fee of around 12 million euros, the former Zenit icon has decided to switch the blue and white of Saint Petersburg for the yellow and green of Makhackala, and it isn’t just Denisov that has been lured by the ambitions of Anzhi.
New Russian hope Alexander Kokorin of Dynamo Moscow looks all but to be certain of making the switch to the south west of Russia, and Anzhi’s rivals are just starting to get seriously worried before the start of the upcoming new season. I’m looking into laying some wagers at the Freebets blog as one club seems intent on ruling over Russia for a long time.
Having finished in third place, and gaining bronze medals for the first time in their history, Anzhi were left half satisfied after last season, and only half satisfied because it could have been even better.
Trailing eventual champions CSKA Moscow by just 3 points coming into the second half of last season’s championship and having a firm grip on second place, a desperate run of form including a heartbreaking defeat in the Europa League allowed Zenit to overtake the Dagestani club and take a coveted Champions League place away from them.
In the Russian Cup, it was a similar story, taking CSKA all the way to penalties in the final, only to come up short when it really mattered. This season they seem determined to put that all right though. While able to tempt potential transfer targets with only Europa League football, Suleyman Kerimov’s deep pockets seem to be enticing enough.
Almost every player which has any sort of calibre and quality about them seems to be linked with Anzhi, but the purchase of Zenit’s Denisov is something which came as somewhat as a shock. Since the fiasco in which Denisov froze himself out of the Zenit side following the arrival of Axel Witsel and in particular Hulk, the 29 year old midfielder had managed to work his way back in Zenit’s good books and to all of us, everything seemed to be patching up nicely. But this move came as a real bombshell.
Zenit players Vyacheslav Malafeev and Alexander Kerzhakov themselves spoke of how they didn’t believe it was happening until it was officially confirmed, and with his departure a big hole has been left in the heart of their midfield, a void which will be helped to be filled by the return of 34 year old Ukrainian midfielder Anatoliy Tymoshchuk from Champions League winners Bayern Munich.
For Anzhi though, it’s a major coup. Signing the Russian national team captain from a club like Zenit is just yet another statement of their intentions, as their craving for instant success becomes stronger and stronger.
Ex Zenit bad man Alexey Ionov has also made Anzhi his new home, signing from last season’s surprise package Kuban Krasnodar, and with their main man Samuel Eto’o looking sure to stay for at least another season, they’re starting to look strong favourites for the new season which starts in already just a week’s time. And before they’re done in the transfer business for this summer, reports have emerged which seem to be indicating that Anzhi have snapped up Russia’s brightest hope for the future.
22 year old Alexander Kokorin has been steadily making his name in Russia with Dynamo Moscow in the last few years, but last season, he really shot to fame. While only scoring 9 goals, his excellent approach play and skill saved Dynamo from what could have been an absolutely disastrous campaign, and in turn propelling himself to the top of many a clubs’ shopping lists. Italian giants Roma were said to be interested, especially when Kokorin himself recently posted online a photo of himself in Rome, but like so many others in the past 18 months, he has fallen under Anzhi’s spell.
With an 19 million euro release clause in his contract, Anzhi have taken full advantage, and with personal terms seemingly agreed upon, it seems to be just a matter of time before Anzhi officially announce their new star signing. Add Kokorin into an attack which already includes Eto’o and Brazilian magician Willian, and a side that is starting to look capable of dominating Russian football for a number of years is starting to come together.
But for many Russian fans, the rate at which players are willing to make the switch to Anzhi is becoming distinctly alarming. Especially when you take into account that for at least another year, they won’t be rubbing shoulders with Europe’s elite in the Champions League.
For 90% of top players just the fact of being stuck in the Europa League is enough to put them off making the move, but for Denisov, Kokorin and many others, the lure of even more money than what they were already earning has proven too big a temptation. Anzhi’s pockets are never ending, and while they are taking full advantage of having that asset, they are heavily contributing to football becoming much less of a sport and just purely business, in an age where money like never before, is taking over our beloved sport.
That’s not to say Anzhi are breaking the law in any sense. They’re just taking advantage of what the law allows them to do, and in doing so, sooner or later trophies lay in wait. Competing in just the Europa League doesn’t seem quite fair for a team that is full of such rich pure talent, but success in the Russian Championship has to be a priority, and with the squad that they have at their disposal, gold medals have to be waiting just around the corner.
Zenit and CSKA may have something to say about that, but Anzhi’s power is looking even more menacing, but just how a club that one day had nothing and now suddenly everything, is infuriating just about every Russian football fan.
Whether that’s born out of jealousy or genuine concern for the sincerity of Russian football though, is a very debatable question.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow Shaun on Twitter @zenitfan93
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