Why Liverpool's Euro rivals Anzhi have lost their mega spending bluster

Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge takes a look at Liverpool's Europa League group opponents Anzhi.  Anzhi Makhachkala ... remember them?
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Russia's RT sports anchor Kate Partridge takes a look at Liverpool's Europa League group opponents Anzhi.

 

Anzhi Makhachkala ... remember them?

Twelve months ago, they were the talk of the transfer market. But Liverpool will be facing a very different Anzhi this season in the Europa League.

Under the former Chelsea manager Guus Hiddink, Anzhi are striking a prudent long-term balance between developing youngsters and cherry picking experienced players to boost and establish their squad. They've now dropped the short-term headline grabbing mega-deals.

Earlier this summer, Hiddink brought in three young forwards – Lacina Traore and Fyodor Smolov, both 22, and 18-year-old Serder Serderov – whom he considered fundamental to the side's growth.

"It’s important to build the whole development structure of the club, and build it properly," he said. "Obviously, to increase our level you can make one or two expensive purchases, but it’s also important to give young players the opportunity to prove themselves. They’ll be the future of the club."

He added that Anzhi are counting on one more purchase, with the Russian transfer window set to close this week.

They have since reached an agreement with Real Madrid over the season-long loan of Lassana Diarra.

With foreigners Christopher Samba and Traore both scoring at the weekend, and Samuel Eto'o also on three goals so far this campaign, the Makhachkala "project" is going well. The test will come later in the season when the impact of a first European campaign is felt.

Reaching the group phase, where they and Liverpool are joined by Udinese and Switzerland's Young Boys, was not without controversy.

Anzhi fans were the subject of abuse from local supporters when the home leg of their qualifier with AZ Alkmaar was played at the Lokomotiv Arena in Moscow.

Three days after the trouble, Eto'o was keen to stress the importance of a "healthy atmosphere" and "fair play" in football matches.

However, the striker also objected to the idea of Anzhi's European matches being moved abroad.

"It is important for all of Russia to be seen," he added. "Russian football is a powerful ambassador. When foreign teams come to Russia, matches like this are an opportunity to create the country's image. Thus, we provide the chance to discover Russia for these teams."

Eto'o, in a sure sign of his commitment to Anzhi, added: "In Russia, Makhachkala could be a dangerous place. But isn't Israel a dangerous country? Aren't Champions League matches held in Tel Aviv? If we go deeper into political issues, we'll get stuck in them. Football is above politics."

Hiddink also was unimpressed by UEFA's demand they stage their home legs outside of Dagestan.

"I did not understand this decision", said the 65-year-old Dutchman. "We played Russian championship matches in Makhachkala last season and everything was fine. We have everything in order to hold the Europa League matches in Makhachkala: a good pitch, great fans and wonderful support, but the commission decided in their own way."

Anzhi's rise has rattled much of the establishment here, as we saw with the Lokomotiv Arena controversy.

Basically, old regional rivalries have become reflected in football rivalries with the recent rise of mega-rich Anzhi. During the late Soviet era, the big rivalry was between now Ukrainian giants Dynamo Kiev and Spartak Moscow. In more recent times, this has shifted to a Moscow-St. Petersburg duel between Spartak and Dynamo, and double defending champions Zenit.

But now Suleiman Kerimov's billions have effectively propelled Dagestani club Anzhi into overnight superstardom, challenging the old order. And, since UEFA's decision, Anzhi have now played their European matches in Moscow, adding extra tension to already passionate rivalries.

It's just part of the growing pains the Russian Premier League is now experiencing. But make no mistake, as Anzhi have shown with this summer's market approach, they're laying the foundations to be here for a long, long time.

 
West Brom mad, Kate Partridge is the sports anchor at Russia's RT and writes a weekly blog on the Premier League for rt.com. Click here for more. Also follow Kate: @KatePartridgeRT.

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