Anzhi may have been causing many a stir around Europe for the past year or so now, but beating clubs such as Chelsea is something new. A victory albeit off the pitch rather than on it, but with beating the European Champions to signing Shakhtar’s Brazilian magician Willian, they really have struck gold.
The Russians may have had a surprisingly quiet winter transfer window up to that point, but they just couldn’t resist staying out of the limelight for too long. In signing the 24 year old, Anzhi have sent out an even bigger warning to the rest of the world that they are ready to take on anyone and everyone.
But many questions are being put towards Willian himself. Why would a player approaching his prime opt out of joining the European Champions to join a club which hasn’t even competed in Europe’s club competition as yet? To many the answer is simple, money. Look a little deeper however, and your opinion might change.
Having taken up residence in Donetsk with perennial Ukrainian champions Shakhtar for already 5 and a half years, it shouldn’t come as too such as a surprise to Shakhtar fans that their number 10 felt the time was right for a change of scenery.
While a move away to one of European football’s more distinguished countries, such as England or Spain, would have been much easier to accept, a move away to near Russia with new superpowers Anzhi was never going to go down too well. Especially when you consider some of the possible motives behind the move.
Anzhi are without doubt, one of Europe’s richest clubs right now, with billionaire owner Suleyman Kerimov providing the fuel for Anzhi’s ever more powerful engine. And with reportedly a 2.5 million euro annual salary awaiting Willian, many aren’t in doubt as to why he chose Russia.
Even well respected Shakhtar head coach Mircea Lucescu claimed that Willian has chosen money over having a successful career, and when you see reports of how much the Brazilian will be earning in Russia, it’s not hard to believe why the young Brazilian has turned from hero to zero in a flash.
Look at it from Anzhi’s point of view however, and you can start to see why they managed to pull off such a major coup, with has left the rest of the footballing world reeling in shock. Kerimov’s vision for Anzhi has been clear right from the word go, when he took control of the club in January 2011.
He wants the club to go places, and while other club presidents may be willing to wait 5-10 years for the degree of success that Kerimov is hoping for, the Russian isn’t having any of it. He demands success, and a lot of it, and not just in a few years’ time, but right now.
Having already qualified for Europe for the first time after finishing 5th in last season’s Russian league, one of the objectives has already been achieved. But it’s just the start. And to achieve success so quickly, you have to have the right tools, and with having players such as Willian already joining a team which includes the likes of Samuel Eto’o, everything is just starting to fall into place.
For Willian himself, the prospect of joining a club which has such high ambitions and goals, is an attractive proposition. In joining Anzhi he is climbing aboard the fastest express train that there is, travelling right from being nothing to being a super club all in the space of just 2 short years.
Anzhi sit in second place currently in the Russian league, in prime position to pounce on any mistake from current leaders CSKA Moscow, and if they manage to claim that highly elusive first Russian title, the glittering lights of Champions League football await in just a few months’ time, and even Kerimov can afford to wait until then.
And when the Anzhi management explained all this to Willian at the table where they tried to thrash out a deal, you begin to realise that maybe it wasn’t just money that persuaded one of Europe’s most wanted talents to make the move east rather than west.
Chelsea and Shakhtar fans won’t feel any better because of this however. The reigning European champions are a club somewhat in sharp decline, having already meekly given up the defence of their European title, and floundering horribly in domestic football.
In their failure to land one of their main transfer targets, Roman Abramovich is for the first time seeing his beloved Chelsea regressing rather than progressing, and in losing out to clubs such as Anzhi in the transfer market, there isn’t much light at the end of the tunnel as yet.
As far as Shakhtar are concerned however, they can be excused for being a bit worried. Having knocked Chelsea out of the group stage themselves largely down to Willian’s magic, they now have a slight headache with the knockout stages being just a few days away. Fellow Brazilians and Shakhtar stalwarts such as Fernandinho and Luiz Adriano, now have no other option than to stand up and be counted.
While Chelsea and Shakhtar fans can only sit and hope for the best, their Russian counterparts can sit and rub their hands with glee and anticipation. Not only are they edging close to claiming their first ever Russian title, and being one of the favourites in this year’s Europa League, they are purchasing some of the world’s best talent around right now. And if they do manage to win something this year, maybe the talk of players moving to Russia just for the lure of money will once and for all come to an end.
But as for Anzhi’s new number ten Willian, he’s under pressure to perform right away, and no excuses otherwise. Shakhtar aren’t going to be able to keep their eyes off his game in Russia either, and while they will always be left with a rather sour taste in the mouth following such an exit, maybe even they will realise that money wasn’t just the only motive in making such an important, but unexpected, step in his career.
Written by Shaun Nicolaides
Follow him on Twitter @zenitfan93
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