The Russian billionaire who relegated his club after splashing €115m on Eto’o, Willian & Roberto Carlos

Cameron Smith
The Russian billionaire who relegated his club after splashing €115m on Eto’o, Willian & Roberto Carlos

One of the greatest rise and falls in recent football history, Anzhi Makhachkala announced themselves on the world stage with cash aplenty and big name signings to rival the best in Europe.

The club were an obscure Russian team, founded in 1991, but soon found themselves on the tip of everyone’s tongues after they were taken over by billionaire Suleyman Kerimov in January 2011.

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Kerimov purchased his hometown club and set about trying to become the biggest club in the country and qualify for the Champions League.

As of July 2020, Kerimov is the 56th richest man in the world, and his venture into football was unsurprisingly heavily baded around money.

It started just weeks after he took over the club when Anzhi signed World Cup winner Roberto Carlos on a free transfer, €10 million on midfielder Jucilei, and €8m on winger Mbark Boussoufa.

Carlos amassed 28 appearances for the club, scoring five goals and assisting three, before retiring at the end of the 2011/12 season and taking on a role as the club’s director.

Jucilei played 100 times for the club, including 16 in the Europa League, before he was sold to Al-Jazira for €6m in January 2014, whilst Boussoufa earned the club a profit when he was sold to Lokomotiv Moscow for €15.5m in 2013.

In the summer of 2011 Kerimov invested even further in a bid to dominate Russian football. He signed the likes of Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea for €15.5m, Balazs Dzsudzsak from PSV Eindhoven for a reported €14m, and Samuel Eto’o from Inter Milan for approximately €28m. Eto’o became the world’s most well-paid player at the club, with his deal reported to be worth €20.5m per year.

Former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink took charge in early 2012, and he signed Blackburn defender Christopher Samba for €14m.

Willian was signed for €36.5m from Shakhtar Donetsk in January 2013, but played just 11 games for the club.

Anzhi’s signings under Kerimov

PLAYER NAMEFROMFEE (€m)
Roberto CarlosCorinthiansFree
Mbark BoussoufaAnderlecht8
JucileiCorinthians10
Samuel Eto'oInter28
Yuri ZhirkovChelsea15.5
Balazs DzsudzsakPSV Eindhoven14
Mehdi Carcela-GonzalezStandard Liege6
Christopher SambaBlackburn14
WillianShakhtar Donetsk36.5
Lacina TraoreKuban Krasnodar19
Lassana DiarraReal Madrid5
Aleksandr KokorinDynamo Moscow20
Igor DenisovZenit St-Petersburg15.5

After achieving a fifth place finish in 2011/12 and finishing third in 2012/13, Hiddink resigned in July 2013, sparking a mass exodus.

Kerimov decided cuts were needed, and he reduced the club’s budget by two-thirds. This saw the majority of the squad leave, with the likes of: Willian and Eto’o leaving for Chelsea (€37m and free respectively), Zhirkov, Igor Denisov and Aleksandr Kokorin leaving for Dynamo Moscow (€10.5m, €15.5m and €20m respectively) and Lacina Traore leaving for Monaco (€18m).

After selling their stars, Anzhi suffered relegation in the 2013/14 season after winning just three games all season, and although they managed to get promoted at the first time of asking, they fell back into the second tier at the end of the 2018/19 season after yet more stars left.

It was the budget cuts and subsequent sales that saw Anzhi slip from the upper end of Russian football, down to the second tier. Furthermore, the extreme wages that were handed out saw the club fall into financial trouble, and Kerimov sold the club to Osman Kadiyev on 28 December 2016.

An experiment that failed to bring home silverware and ultimately failed; with Anzhi now in Russian football’s second tier, it’s a case of what could’ve been, and the days of Carlos, Eto’o and Willian are long gone.