‘Exiled to Russia’ is the first phrase that comes to mind. At least it was before Anzhi Makhachkala became a force in Russian football and began flexing their financial muscle. Their acquisitions in the recent past have been impressive: prolonging the career of Brazilian legend and club captain Roberto Carlos and making Samuel Eto’o the highest paid player in world football. In a time of economic crisis and Uefa’s clamping down on reckless spending, Anzhi are certainly not shying away from fulfilling their ambitions and sneaking in the backdoor to pick up some of Europe’s top performers. The impeding signing of Christopher Samba definitely came out of left field, and where the player was expected to sign for one of the top clubs in the Premier League this summer, he will now at the very least triple his wages in Russian football. An act of greed, or is the Congolese defender fulfilling an ambition by joining the revolution in Eastern Europe?
A breakdown in relations at Blackburn between the club and their captain Christopher Samba has led to discussions of a promise to allow the player to leave the struggling club at the end of the season. Samba was denied a move to one of London’s ambitious sides in either Tottenham or QPR in January, with the club insisting the player was to remain where he is. But in spite of Samba’s desire to leave Blackburn as soon as possible, is the fringes of European football really the most desirable place, even if the cash does flow like water?
Anzhi are a side, like most with serious money, who want to make an impression in the Champions League and go on to win the trophy. A realistic vision, or one that will be laughed off in a similar manner which greeted Shakhtar Donetsk and their hopes of a European trophy. There’s no question that the Ukrainian side have helped to raise the profile of football in Eastern Europe through winning the Uefa Cup in 2009, along with teams such as CSKA Moscow who are competing regularly in he Champions League and the Luzhniki Stadium hosting the all English 2008 Champions League final. It just seems a little odd that Samba has chosen a destination so out of the way of the public eye, where a similar big move could have been achieved in England and with perhaps greater chance of success in Europe.
The signing of Samuel Eto’o last summer has been a smart move for the club—who are based in the Republic of Dagestan. His arrival will surely pave the way for many other top names in Europe to follow, and Christopher Samba may even further increase the profile of one of Europe’s richest clubs. In that sense it could be a great coup for the club, who have once again materialised out of nowhere to pick up a player who would have potentially been on a number of top clubs’ radar.
In spite of their location, they are comfortably building a squad and a foundation with which to conquer Russian football and make their mark in Europe. Will Samba’s move open the door even wider for European based players and specifically those from the Premier League? Or is his signing seen as nothing more than an opportunity for a big pay day? Much was said about Eto’o’s move to Anzhi, and the view was that one of the best strikers in Europe still had something to offer the Italian, Spanish or even English leagues.
It might be unwise to simply dismiss Samba’s move as an act of greed, but at this stage Anzhi are hardly the European superpower that they one day hope to be. The Russian league, while boasting a number of top talents, cannot lay claim to being one of the premier football leagues in Europe. Like Eto’o, Samba still had much to offer a high-profile club competing at the top end of an elite league, and his departure, at least for now, may be seen as premature.