Anzhi Makhachkala, sound familiar? Around a decade ago the Russian club was queuing up alongside Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain as Europe’s best wage payers.
Following Anzhi’s promotion to the Russian Premier League in 2010, a first for the Eagles, local billionaire Suleyman Kerimov purchased a 100% stake in the club and immediately injected the sort of funds only a few have the luxury of boasting.
The long game was out of the question for Kerimov; to herald the start of his reign, a wave of world-class names pitched up at this relatively unknown club. From Roberto Carlos to Samuel Eto’o, Anzhi went from minnows to major-league players overnight.
And it wasn’t just the team that got a millionaire makeover. The dugout also underwent a drastic overhaul, with former Real Madrid and Chelsea boss Guus Hiddink stepping into the equation and guiding the club to the Europa League Round of 16 in his first full season.
It was a first for the club, and an initial step toward the upper slopes of European football, where they would hope to establish themselves in years to come.
And then Alan Pardew came along…
Newcastle United stopped Anzhi in their tracks and the dream was quickly shattered. A 1-0 defeat on aggregate to the Magpies was perhaps not the primary factor in Anzhi’s ensuing capitulation, but it marked perhaps the last high point.
In August later that year, Anzhi’s £116m-a-season budget was slashed by two-thirds. A fire sale followed and the club finished dead last in the Russian top-flight the following season, bringing an end to Anzhi’s brief fling with the elite level.
Publicly, ‘sporting results’ were given as the motive behind this change in strategy, but it is also worth noting Kerimov’s business interests had just taken a hit, reducing his net worth by £325m.
It has been downhill ever since. A dramatic fall from grace, with Anzhi now competing in the third tier of football in Russia. But, let’s cast our minds back to the Yellow-Greens side that played Newcastle in that 2012/13 Europa League first-leg tie.
Goalkeeper: Vladimir Gabulov
- Anzhi appearances: 61
- Current club: FC Olimp Khimki (chairman)
The 10-time Russia international joined in the summer spending spree of 2011 and would exit the club during the cull two years later. In short, Gabulov was there during the height of Anzhi’s splurge and left when things started to fall apart.
The domestic journeyman had endured a nomadic existence in Russian football, having played his entire career in the East European nation, donning the colours of Dynamo Moscow to CSKA Moscow, but he would randomly join Club Brugge in Belgium in 2018 and retire eight months later.
Since hanging up his gloves, the 37-year-old has traded the pitch for the boardroom and is now chairman of amateur Russian outfit Olimp Khimki.
Right-back: Andrey Yeshchenko
- Anzhi appearances: 46
- Current club: Spartak Moscow
Anzhi not only looked to assemble a squad of world-class stars from some of Europe’s biggest clubs but they also looked to plunder the ranks of their Russian Premier League rivals and weaken the domestic competition. So, in came Yeshchenko from Lokomotiv Moscow in 2013.
The right-back’s experience in the top flight was scarce, as he had previously plied his trade in the lower divisions and the Ukrainian Premier League before pitching up at Lokomotiv. Yeshchenko, likewise, lasted just a handful of seasons, spent mainly on loan away from the club, and joined Spartak Moscow in 2016.
He stuck around longer than most.
Centre-back: Joao Carlos
- Anzhi appearances: 78
- Current club: Retired
Not one of the mega stars brought into the club but still a huge player by the standards Anzhi were accustomed to at the time. The Rio de Janeiro-born defender hailed from Vasco da Gama’s esteemed academy in his native Brazil before touring Europe, turning out for Bulgarian clubs CSKA Sofia and Lokeren.
Carlos then moved on to Genk in Belgium, where his imperious showings at the back for Smurfen also caught the attention of Schalke, but he ultimately signed for Anzhi in 2011, before leaving for Spartak Moscow two years later. Carlos returned to Vasco and Lokeren, before giving the lucrative pastures of the UAE a go with Al Jazira, and then retiring at Madureira in his home city of Rio de Janeiro.
- Anzhi appearances: 35
- Current club: Wurzburger Kickers
Ewerton was signed from Brazilian club Corinthians after a successful loan spell in Europe with Portuguese club Braga, a deal possibly influenced by Roberto Carlos. Carlos was Hiddink’s assistant manager at this point and had been a teammate of Ewerton’s during the duo’s time together at Corinthians. The Brazilian centre-back actually hung around until 2015, two years after Roberto Carlos’ stepped down alongside Hiddink.
Ewerton’s next club was Sporting CP, where after impressing during a brief loan move the Lions signed him permanently. He later swapped the Portuguese capital for German football, with the 31-year-old representing Kaiserslautern, Nurnberg, Hamburger SV and Wurzburger Kickers over the past five years.
Left-back: Yuri Zhirkov
- Anzhi appearances: 63
- Current club: Zenit Saint Petersburg
Such were Zhirkov’s eye-catching performances for CSKA Moscow at left-back, where he established a reputation as an attack-minded defender, that Chelsea splashed £18m for his signature in 2009, making him the most expensive Russian ever at the time, surpassing Andrey Arshavin’s £15m move to Arsenal.
But Zhirkov never really hit the ground running in England, and after two years, the Blues were able recoup some of the huge outlay they initially splurged on his signature, offloading him to Anzhi, who were more than happy to acquire a Russian star and a Premier League name.
A week after his move he was booed and heckled by Russia fans during an international friendly against Serbia, with the defender even bombarded with a cigarette packet, as supporters were incensed with his move to Anzhi. It didn’t last long either way. After two years Zhirkov was on the move and now represents Zenit.
Central midfield: Odil Ahmedov
- Anzhi appearances: 110
- Current club: Tianjin TEDA
Having impressed for boyhood club Pakhtakor Tashkent in his native Uzbekistan, Ahmedov caught the attention of Anzhi, who acquired his services in 2011. In the ensuing fire sale, the Uzbek was kept on board despite interest from Arsenal, which was more than just paper talk according to Ahmedov himself.
“It’s true that Arsene Wenger wanted me to play for him,” Ahmedov told Shanghai-based newspaper Xinmin Evening News.
“However, Anzhi spent a huge amount of money at that time and our boss [Suleyman Kerimov] had no intention of selling me to make money.”
He did manage to find the escape hatch in 2014, joining Krasnodar before securing a bumper move to the Far East with Shanghai SIPG soon after. He now plays for Tianjin TEDA.
Central midfield: Lassana Diarra
- Anzhi appearances: 28
- Current club: Retired
From a one-time Arsenal target to a former player, Diarra was exactly the sort of signing Anzhi were after at the time. He came with a wealth of experience and had the status of joining the club from Real Madrid. This was meant to be a power-shifting moment for the Russian club.
Diarra dismissed the idea that his move was motivated by financial gain, and suggested the biggest driving force behind his move was linking up with Samuel Eto’o to become successful. It probably wasn’t quite what Diarra was expecting. After just one full season and only 28 appearances he became the sixth victim of the 2013 summer exodus, relocating to the capital with Lokomotiv Moscow.
The diminutive midfield enforcer didn’t hang around at Lokomotiv too long either, leaving the following summer for Marseille, before turning out for Al Jazira in the UAE and finishing at the very peak of football with PSG before retiring.
Central midfield: Jucilei
- Anzhi appearances: 100
- Current club: Free agent
Another player signed from Corinthians in 2011 with Roberto Carlos using his pulling power to unearth hidden gems in his native Brazil. The versatile midfielder, capped twice by the Selecao, was the subject of interest from Juventus at one stage, but joined the star-studded contingent in Dagestan.
After three seasons and a century of appearances for the Yellow-Greens, Jucilei moved to the Middle East with Al Jazira and then the Far East with Shandong Luneng, before returning to Brazil in 2018 with Sao Paulo. The 32-year-old left the club in February 2020 and is yet to find a new home.
- Anzhi appearances: 17
- Current club: Arsenal
The path from Brazil to Shakhtar Donetsk is well-trodden. Some of the names to have donned the iconic orange and black strip in recent times include Fernandinho, Douglas Costa and Willian.
So, when Anzhi went all out and splashed over £30m for the latter’s signature, it seemed a huge coup at the time.
Willian actually made his club debut against Newcastle, but sustained an injury in the first leg and missed the return fixture on Tyneside. As part of the cost-cutting summer exodus, Willian was on the move after just seven months at the club. He looked destined to join Tottenham after completing a medical in north London, but he would be on the M25 shortly after as Chelsea hijacked the deal.
The Brazilian went on to flourish at Stamford Bridge, winning titles galore and mesmerising the west London crowd with his Selecao silk and magic feet. He left the club last summer, signing for another London club in Arsenal. That’s gotta sting for Spurs fans.
Right-wing: Oleg Shatov
- Anzhi appearances: 51
- Current club: Rubin Kazan
One of the less glamorous names, Shatov joined Anzhi from Ural Sverdlovsk Oblast in the winter window of 2011 after winning the club’s Player of the Year award in 2010 as a teenage talent. His only full season for the club in 2012/13 culminated in that Europa League round-of-16 finish, and he too would join the conveyor belt heading towards the exit doors that summer, finding a new home at Zenit Saint Petersburg, where he won three Russian Football Premier League titles.
At the end of July Shatov joined Rubin Kazan, ending his seven-year stint with Zenit.
Striker: Samuel Eto’o
- Anzhi appearances: 73
- Current club: Retired
Anzhi’s emblematic player, the poster boy of this entire revolution in Dagestan, Eto’o became the world’s highest-paid player when his move to Anzhi from Inter Milan in 2011 materialised, with the former Cameroon marksman reportedly earning €20m (after taxes) per season.
Captaining the side, Eto’o was one of the few success stories of Anzhi’s dramatic rise and sudden fall during that three-year period, with the prolific scorer finding the back of the net 36 times in 73 games before Kerimov went into cost-cutting mode and Eto’o joined Willian at Chelsea in 2013.
The legendary forward went on to represent Everton, Sampdoria, Antalyaspor, Konyaspor and Qatar SC before closing the curtains on a glittering career in 2019.
- Lacina Traore (for Willian)
- Mehdi Carcela-Gonzalez (for Shatov)
- Arseni Logashov (for Yeshchenko)