Anzhi set sights on joining European elite

Wealthy Russians Anzhi Makhachkala are a work in progress that may take several years to complete but they have their sights set on becoming one of Europe's elite clubs.

With no shortage of cash provided by ambitious owner, Russian billionaire Suleiman Kerimov, Anzhi General Director German Chistyakov is thinking big.

"It's only the tip of the iceberg," Chistyakov told reporters after opening the first of several youth football schools in the province of Dagestan.

"Obviously we wouldn't have made such huge investments into this project without having high ambitions," he added.

"It's no secret we want to become one of the top clubs not only in Russia but in Europe as well. It's a long-term project."

Kerimov's money helped lure Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan during the last transfer window on a three-year deal.

According to media reports, Eto'o is now the highest-paid player in the world with an annual salary of 20 million euros.

The transfer put Anzhi in the spotlight and hardly a day passes without the world's media linking the club from the volatile North Caucasus region with more high-profile acquisitions.

Asked if he was being inundated with phone calls from agents, Chistyakov said: "You can't deny it.

"Now it seems like every player in the world wants to come here. But don't ask me to reveal any names, we don't comment on rumours."

Former Brazil defender Roberto Carlos and Andrei Gordeyev were put in joint temporary control of team affairs after long-serving coach Gadzhi Gadzhiyev was sacked last month.

The club have been linked with a number of top coaches although Chistyakov was keeping his cards close to his chest.

BIG CIRCUS

He was more inclined to talk about the long-lasting legacy Anzhi hope to leave on Dagestan and its people.

Dagestan, wedged between Chechnya and the Caspian Sea, is beset by almost daily violence and is considered the epicentre of an Islamist insurgency raging across the North Caucasus.

"People used to talk about the war, now they're talking about football," said Chistyakov.

"Right now the club resembles a big circus, attracting attention with the help of star players. It's a new thing here."

Fans regularly fill Anzhi's crumbling Dynamo stadium to capacity as they did for Sunday's league game against CSKA Moscow.

Despite Eto'o opening the scoring for the hosts three minutes into the match, Anzhi lost 5-3.

This year the Russian league changed its traditional March-November format to a calendar more in line with the rest of Europe, thereby extending this season to the end of May 2012.

After the first 30 games the top eight teams will contest the title, leaving the bottom eight to fight against relegation.

Sunday's defeat left Anzhi in eighth spot, four points above ninth-placed FK Krasnodar with two matches remaining in the first part of the season.

"Right now the priority is to finish in the top eight. It's the absolute must for us," said Chistyakov.