The vast country has seen a resurgence in the last decade as CSKA Moscow and Zenit St. Petersburg have won the Europa League and other sides such as Rubin Kazan have emerged as forces on the European scene. Brazilians are flocking to the country and its neighbour Ukraine, where money is increasingly attracting some of the top players. One of those is Roberto Carlos, who recently joined Russian outfit Anzhi Makhachkala, who are bankrolled by Russian billionaire Suleimen Kerimov.
Kerimov is number 136 on Forbes’ list of the world’s richest billionaires, and possesses a fortune of £5.5 billion. He made much of his money in the country’s lucrative gold and silver mines, and his money has attracted the former Real Madrid star to join the Mackhachkala.
The club are relatively new, having been founded in 1991. They endured a seven year absence from Russia’s top flight until 2009 when they won promotion back to the country’s top league, and should not be a complete stranger to British audiences, having played Glasgow Rangers in the UEFA Cup a decade ago. The tie was marred by controversy as the Scottish club refused to travel to Dagestan for safety reasons. The club is based between war torn Chechnya and the Caspian oil basin, and its Dynamo stadium was redeveloped at significant cost in order to allow them to take advantage of the surge in support for the club. But their location gives them problems, and in 1999 there was an invasion of Dagestan as Islamists tried to inspire a religious uprising among the region’s Muslims, which promptly failed.
Carlos aside, the club’s players are generally unrecognisable to the football fan who does not follow the Russian game, but they are increasingly ambitious, and were recently linked with a move for AC Milan’s Gennaro Gattuso and former Lyon star Juninho Pernambucano as they look to build a reputation. They have followed the Terek Grozny approach to building the club, by bringing in a big name to attract the attention of those outside of Russia to announce themselves on the football scene.
Perhaps their biggest success domestically was reaching the final of the Russian Cup, which they lost to Lokomotiv Moscow in 2001, but the club has also been visited by tragedy, as their defender Shamil Bursiyev was killed in a car crash last year. But the club’s 11th place finish in the Russian League last season shows that the team have a long way to go even to be in Europe, let alone win the title. Their main problem will be trying to compete against other sides in the league who have similar wealth, and that could be the reason they have gone after Roberto Carlos and similar stars, in order to lure those who consider moving to take advantage of the new found wealth of many Russian clubs. The likes of Zenit St. Petersburg, the Russian champions, and Rubin Kazan are bankrolled by similar billions, and in a league increasingly dominated by such wealth, Anzhi are simply fitting in with their peers. Whether it brings them success or not remains to be seen. But they will certainly have more people peering in from the outside now that they have attracted a player of Roberto Carlos’ reputation to Dagestan.