What happened to Anzhi Makhachkala – the Russian side with Eto’o and Carlos

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There's an old saying: the higher your rise, the harder you fall.

And fans of the Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala know that feeling more than most.

Just under a decade ago, they were flying high in the Russian top flight, and Russian businessman Suleyman Kerimov, a man said to be worth $9.8 billion, had just taken control of the club.

Anzhi fans had a lot of reasons to be hopeful, and it wasn't long before global superstars began to arrive in their secluded city.

It all ended in tears, as such takeovers often do, but there was no shortage of madness along the way.

The most notable early signing of Kerimov’s early time in charge was Roberto Carlos.

He was 37 at the time, he had just been released by Corinthians, and his career was winding down.

But that didn’t stop Anzhi from paying him €10million over two years to potter about in defensive midfield. Perhaps more notable was the birthday present he received from Kerimov: a £1.2m Bugatti Veyron.

This gesture was later referenced by Yaya Toure’s agent when Manchester City infamously only presented the Ivorian with a birthday cake when he turned 31, prompting the midfielder to reportedly demand a move.

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The financial largesse at Anzhi was immediately making waves across European football.

Signing an ageing World Cup winner was one thing, but things moved up considerably in the first summer of the Kerimov era.

Samuel Eto'o signed from Inter Milan for approximately €28million, and he was paid a world-record €20.5million annual salary for his troubles.

Yuri Zhirkov signed from Chelsea, and Christopher Samba, from Blackburn Rovers, followed that winter.

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However, there was one major problem that all of Anzhi's new superstar acquisitions faced.

Dagestan, the area Anzhi were based in, was an unstable region of Russia, and clashes between military forces and insurgency fighters meant home games were security risks.

"Plenty of people will be looking out for my security, and if I took this decision it’s because I don’t consider that my life or that of my family are in any danger,” Eto'o told his website upon his arrival.

"I’ll travel there on the day of the match or the eve of the match and then I’ll go back to Moscow. It’s that simple.”

As a result, Eto'o, and the rest of Anzhi's newfound superstars, lived and trained in Moscow, only making the 1,200-mile flight to Makhachkala for the matches themselves.

By February of 2012, Guus Hiddink occupied the hot seat. In his one full season in charge, Anzhi finished third in the Russian Premier League and reached the last 16 of the Europa League.

Both were new high points in the club’s domestic and European history, so the heavy investment was clearly having an impact.

It was as good as things ever got for the club though.

In the summer of 2013, Kerimov saw £5.5billion wiped off the value of a potash fertiliser production company he was investing in.

The purse strings at Anzhi had to be tightened, and as a fire sale of players began, the owner lost interest.

Rene Meulensteen had taken over from Hiddink but was fired after just 16 days in charge.

Gadzhi Gadzhiev returned for his fourth spell in charge of the club, and relegation followed at the end of the 2013/14 season.

They may have bounced back up at the first time of asking, but never finished higher than 12th in the top flight again.

They were relegated once again last summer, with just 2,250 fans in their 28,000 capacity stadium on the final day of the campaign.

To make matters worse, Anzhi failed Russian Football Union licensing for 2019/20.

As a result, they were relegated into the third tier of Russian football, a level they last played at in 1996.

Their local rivals, Legion Dynamo, who they now share a division with, recently made headlines when they signed former UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Few football clubs have enjoyed and endured such a rollercoaster over the last decade as Anzhi Makhachkala did.

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  • Europa League
  • Russia

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