A Russian Billionaire Wants To Turn This War-Zone Soccer Team Into A European Superpower

samuel eto'o anzhi makhachkala

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Anzhi Makhachkala plays in a old 20,000-seat stadium in a city so dangerous that the players practice 1,200 miles away.It might also be Europe’s next soccer superpower.

The team was bought last January by Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov.

In the 14 months since, Kerimov has brought some of the biggest stars in the game to Russia, and vowed to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure.

The odds are against Anzhi. But if Kerimov succeeds and turns the team into a perennial Champions League contender, it’ll be one of the most incredible turn-arounds in sports history.

Russian oligarch Suleyman Kerimov bought Anzhi in 2011 and promised to pour buckets of cash into the team

Anzhi was pretty terrible before Kerimov bought them.

They wallowed in the second tier of Russian soccer for a while before making it back to the Russian Premier League in 2009.

Kerimov has a $200-million investment plan that involves improving the facilities to bring them up to UEFA standards.

One little issue: The Dagestan region of Russia where Makhachkala is located is really, really dangerous

Dagestan is only 124 miles north of Iran, and is unstable right now.

Russia sent 20,000 troops to the region last month, and the region has long been plagued by violence from separatist terrorist groups.

It's rumoured that 100 police are killed in the region every year, according to the New York Times.

It's so dangerous that the team is based in Moscow, and only travels to Makhachkala for home games

Kerimov's plan centres around paying ridiculous amounts of money for star players. The first guy they bought was 37-year-old Brazilian Roberto Carlos

Carlos was well past his prime when he moved to Anzhi.

But the signing was more symbolic than anything -- it proved that Anzhi could lure a global star to their team.

Anzhi staged their biggest coup last summer when they acquired Samuel Eto'o and gave him a record $30 million per year contract

Source: NYT

But buying big-money players won't solve everything. They still play in a bare-bones, 20,000-seat stadium that was built in the 1960s

They also have to deal with pervasive racism and violence that plagues Russian soccer

Source: WaPo

Oh yeah, they're also struggling pretty hard this season. They're only seventh in the league

But things are looking up, they just hired one of the best coaches in the world

Guus Hiddink has succeeded on both the club and national level. He joined the team in February, and they've lost just twice since then.

But to really make the season a success, they'll have to get to second place and earn a place in the Champions League qualifying rounds.

If they make the Champions League, they could pick up a bevy of stars. Huge players like Fernando Torres are rumoured to be going there for record transfer fees

There is definitely a precedent for oligarchs to come in and make a team a European powerhouse

Roman Abramovich popularised the concept of 'sugar daddy' billionaires buying middling soccer teams and turning them into champions.

Since he bought Chelsea in 2003, Manchester City, PSG, and Malaga have all been purchased by billionaires looking for a toy.

But the odds that they'll become a perennial European power are steep

The Russian Premier League is a full tier below England, Spain, France, Italy, and Germany in terms of quality.

Anzhi is way less established than a team like Man City or Chelsea, so turning them around will take hundreds of millions of dollars and multiple seasons.

It's unclear whether Anzhi can develop its own players domestically to be in accordance with the RPL's restrictions on foreign players.

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