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Some things in life are worth waiting for, and if you are a Zenit Saint Petersburg fan, Monday night was certainly worth waiting for. Frustration amongst fans has been consistently growing over the past year after virtually no new purchases for such a long time, Monday night felt like Christmas Day.
Over the past few weeks speculation has been growing, that powerful nd seriously talented Brazilian superstar Hulk who made his name at Portuguese superpower Porto was on his way to Saint Petersburg, but just after Hulk himself declared he was happy in Portugal, the biggest transfer of the whole summer in Europe happened.
For an approximate £32 million pounds, Zenit acquired one of the most sought after players in the world, leaving fans across Europe stunned. And if one major signing wasn’t enough, Zenit fans were given another reason to cheer. Highly rated 23 year old midfielder Axel Witsel of Benfica and reportedly courted by world giants Real Madrid, penned a 5 year contract with the Russian champions. You can probably call it one of the most productive nights in Zenit’s history, but was it all worth it?
Zenit certainly desperately needed new blood. Yes, the team as it was before the new signings has achieved so many things, but in order to achieve new victories, the right steps should be taken to ensure that this is possible. And finally Maxim Mitrofanov and co have delivered, and just in time for the Champions League.
With the deadline to register players for the Champions League being dead on midnight on the night of the 3rd September, and no deals having been secured in the afternoon, some fast and effective work and negotiations had to be thrashed out in the evening and quick.
Axel Witsel had been given permission by his Belgian national team coach to have negotiations, and Zenit representatives had met Hulk in Brazil, and incredibly, everything fell into place.
The Hulk deal was done first and a couple of hours later news filtered through that Witsel had signed too, making it on the most expensive nights ever for the Russian champions but of the most productive. And while now there is a certain euphoria that has followed these signings, that will soon be replaced by serious expectations.
Having reached the last 16 of the Champions League last season, eventually being narrowly knocked out by Benfica, Witsel’s old club, there was a feeling that more was certainly possible. And while it didn’t happen last season, this season, fans are expecting not to just advance from the group, but to go and at least reach the quarter finals, and with Hulk and Witsel onboard, expectations have only soared.
While some may be surprised that such top class players have chosen to continue their careers in Russia, you shouldn’t be. The same goes for the naïve people who believe that they went only for the money. Russian football is growing rapidly, and not just because of big money transfers, it’s also because of what is happening on the pitch.
In last season’s Champions League, two Russian clubs made it to the last 16, the first time that such an achievement had ever been achieved, and with that Russia had the same amount of clubs in the last 16 as England did. And just look at this season already in the Europe League.
Filthy rich Anzhi Makhachkala are making history on the pitch as well as on it, having gone through 6 qualifying games unbeaten, winning every game and in total scoring 15 goals and conceding none, and that included a 5-0 demolition job of AZ Alkmaar in their own backyard. Money helps feed the hunger for success, that’s not even a question, but to achieve what you want to achieve hard work has to be carried out first on the training ground, and then on the pitch, and this is being carried out in both Makhachkala and Saint Petersburg.
And all this is great news for Russian football as a whole. Much more publicity is now being given to Russian football as a result of these mega deals, and it only highlights a pretty well known fact that football in Russia is growing and growing. Anzhi are doing everything they can to become the new face and future of Russian football, and to their credit they have become an overnight sensation.
Ever since signing Roberto Carlos, who has practically worked as an ambassador for the Dagestani side, more and more big name players have been tempted to make the move, the most high profile of which being African superstar Samuel Eto’o, who has proven to be a major hit in Russia.
If Anzhi play as well as they can, they are practically unbeatable, and reigning Russian champions Zenit themselves are having to fight just to keep up with Anzhi, and clubs such as the fading Russian force Spartak Moscow are falling further and further behind. And while this isn’t just happening in Russia, with Manchester City in England and PSG in France also using money as a tool for fast and quick success, football is becoming even more of a money game, to the dismay of many.
Last night’s stunning raid on the Portuguese league by Zenit has angered and also surprised a lot of fans around Europe, yes, but in turn has brought so many new fans and football lovers to the Russian Premier League, with Hulk in particular being great box office value.
But Zenit’s main goal is quite simple- achieve great new things in the upcoming Champions League, and expectations have been raised by a thousand percent, which may act as a catalyst to the players, or on the contrary will weigh them down too much.
With the first group game in Spain against Malaga just over a fortnight away, everything is going to be clear very soon, and the ridiculous sums of money that the Russians splashed out in that epic night is going to be put to the test- a severe one.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93
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