Anzhi Makhachkala: How the world’s richest club disappeared

Anzhi Makhachkala: How the world’s richest club disappeared
Anzhi Makhachkala: How the world’s richest club disappeared

Dagestan is a republic of Russia situated along the Caspian Sea. The region, famed for its link to modern MMA, fails to boast a single major professional club at this point in time. However, this was not always the way, as it was once home to the financial juggernaut that was Anzhi Makhachkala.

The year was 2011, and the streets of the Dagestani capital of Makhachkala painted a picture of despair. The republic had long suffered Islamic rebel attacks from Chechnya, and its people needed a light to guide them. For local billionaire Suleyman Kerimov, that light was football.

Anzhi Makhachkala: The Backstory

Anzhi Makhachkala were founded in 1991, but they shot to prominence in 2011, as Kerimov acquired the club with the view of making them a powerhouse in world football. The side began to make waves in the winter transfer market, with Brazilian icon Roberto Carlos the first to sign on the dotted line. While the defender joined on a free transfer from Brazilian outfit Corinthians, he penned a two-and-a-half year contract worth a reported €10 million.

The Russian club would poach another Corinthians player in the form of Jucilei, who was 23-years-old at the time, joining for €10 million. Atletico Mineiro forward Diego Tardelli, who signed on a four-year contract, represented another purchase from the Brazilian league, while former Chelsea player Mbark Boussoufa joined from Anderlecht in the last minute of the window. It was a strong first window under Kerimov’s ownership and a sign of what was to come.

By the time the summer window rolled around, the footballing world keenly watched on in anticipation of what was to come from Anzhi. They did not disappoint. Yuri Zhirkov returned to his homeland from Chelsea, joining this Russian revolution for a reported fee of €14 million. A similar fee was to be forked out for the purchase of Hungarian winger Balázs Dzsudzsák, who signed a four-year deal with Dutch side PSV.

Anzhi’s biggest statement came on August 23, as Cameroonian striker Samuel Eto’o, a treble winner with Inter Milan, left the Nerrazurri to join the Russians in a reported €21 million deal. His annual salary of €20.5 million made him the world’s highest paid player at the time, and the deal was three years long.

Moroccan midfielder Mehdi Carcela was the final big signing of the 2011 summer window, as he traded Standard Liege for Dagestan.

The Management Issue:

A messy managerial reshuffle that saw Carlos act as player-manager at one point ended in February 2012, when former Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink was appointed as the new boss.

His first venture into the market would be Christopher Samba, the Congolese defender joining for £12m from Blackburn Rovers, having been impressing in the Premier League at the time. Hiddink guided the side to a fifth-place finish, earning the club a place in the second qualifying round for the Europa League.

Lassana Diarra became another big name on the books in September of 2012, while Willian arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk in a massive €35m deal in February 2013. The 2012/13 season yielded a third-place league finish, as well as a trip to the Europa League last 16, where they were dramatically dumped out by Newcastle United.

This was to be the peak of Kerimov’s Anzhi project, and a heavy downfall was to ensue.

The Financial Crash:

Hiddink resigned from his post on July 22, 2013, putting an end to an 18-month stint. Former Manchester United coach René Meulensteen was his replacement; however, he was sacked after just 16 days. Financial strain hit the club, and they ended up putting the majority of their big-money stars on the market just weeks into the 2013/14 campaign to comply with Financial Fair Play rules.

Eto’o and Willian traded Dagestan for London, as the pair joined José Mourinho at Chelsea. Interestingly, majority of their sales were to other Russian clubs, with Dynamo and Lokomotiv Moscow stepping in.

Led by Gadzhi Gadzhiyev for the 2013/14 season, Anzhi finished bottom, and were relegated from the Russian top flight. Having gained promotion at the first time of asking, the club survived a few seasons in the Russian Premier League before going down once more in 2018.

Anzhi actually managed to keep their RPL spot that year as FC Amkar Perm had their licence revoked, but they would once again be relegated in 2019, and this time they had licence issues of their own.

The club failed Russian Football Union licencing for the 2019–20 season and had to play in the third tier.

The Demise Of Anzhi:

On June 3, 2022, the Russian Football Union confirmed their decision to not grant Anzhi the necessary licence to play in the FNL 2. Their appeal was not considered as it was not filed correctly, which automatically meant the loss of professional status. The club issued a statement apologising to the fans, with the hope that the club can come back “one day.”

Anzhi played their last ever professional game on June 5, 2022, as they won 4–0 away against FC Rotor-2 Volgograd.

There are no current plans to bring the club back to it’s former glory, and the expectation is that we’ve seen the last remnants of the team in yellow that once took the football world by storm with their extravagant spending. The Russian club is an exact example of how not to run a football club, and Manchester City fans will be glad to see that they did not go down the same route upon being taken over by powerful and rich owners.

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