A few weeks ago, near the end of the August transfer window, Jonathan Wilson wrote a column on the changing face of Russian football, transformed by a particularly cash-splashy transfer window at Zenit St. Petersburg:
In an otherwise fairly sedate last week of the transfer window, the startling move came from Zenit St Petersburg, who spent £83m to land Givanildo “Hulk” Souza and Axel Witsel from Porto. Even Russians seem a little bewildered by Hulk’s arrival. An interview in Sport-Express reminded the Brazilian that last year he had said he would only leave Porto for a “great” club. “The most important thing for me right now is to do well in the Russian league, to take Zenit to first place and to help Zenit get as close as possible to the Champions League,” he replied. “These challenges come from a proposal the club from St Petersburg made to me. In addition, I had a lot of discussions with the president of Zenit and discussed everything with him.”
Prior to this summer, the only Russian club which popped up in various bits of unconfirmed transfer news was the unpronounceable Anzhi Makhachkala. Despite the presense of Samuel Eto’o and manager Guus Hiddink, and a reputation for being a hilarious outlier, Anzhi hardly sport a star squad.
This year’s incarnation of Zenit appears to be the real deal, however, and not everyone within the team is happy about the new arrivals. From FIFA.com:
Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Igor Denisov has openly criticised the Russian champions for their big-money purchase of Brazilian striker Hulk.
“I would understand if we got [Lionel] Messi or [Andres] Iniesta – they probably deserve any price,” said Russia captain Denisov.
“Yes, we bought some nice players who will clearly help Zenit. But are they really so much better than the current team leaders that they deserve to get three times more? Zenit have assembled great players who have won at least as many titles as the new guys.”
Denisov and leading league scorer Alexander Kerzhakov were both demoted to the youth squad on Sunday after voicing displeasure at the transfers from the Portuguese league of Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.
It’s certainly possible Denisov is voicing a complaint that goes unsaid in Europe, perhaps because of player union rules (or conventions), or he is simply unaware of the normal machinations of the transfer market. Even Landon Donovan however had the relatively good grace to reveal his discontent with the salaried David Beckham via a book and not in a press conference or tabloid (although the repercussions wore eventually the same).
Signs that Russian football may not be so comfortable in its new role as European ascendant.
(h/t Kristian Jack).