Oh those Russians..........

The vast sums of money that have been thrust upon the slightly unsuspecting coffers of Anzhi Makhachkala have generated publicity beyond what even the club's billionaire owner could have anticipated. Suleyman Kerimov's $5.5 billion fortune makes him one of the world's wealthiest individuals however his pursuit of sporting success with his local football club - and one of Russia's perennial underdogs - has brought the issue of private ownership in Russian football into a new light.

Kerimov's relationship with the Republic of Dagestan stems from his childhood. A native of Derbent, in the southern reaches of Dagestan - close to the Azerbaijan border - Kerimov is a symbol of regional pride. As a relatively 'self made' billionaire the man who left the Dagestan State University with a degree in financial accounting has become a key figure in the seedy  world of Russian business.

The signings of Yuri Zhirkov and Roberto Carlos since Kerimov's takeover of Anzhi in January have raised eyebrows across Europe and persistent links with Samuel Eto'o look to take the club's profile to previously unthinkable echelons. It may seem odd to criticise the manner in which the club has been seeking to become a power within Russian - and eventually European - football however questions are repeatedly raised as to the manner in which Anzhi is seeking to progress. Jealousy, bitterness and logic all entwine themselves in arguments against this new eastern power.

When you take into consideration the stunning fact that in a single month Samuel Eto'o - under the reported terms of his protracted contract offer - will earn more than the average Dagestan citizen earns in 70 years of hard graft then the stark realities of the situation come to light. Dagestan is a place in need of modernisation and the funds that Kerimov is placing within Anzhi are being glared at with increasing envy by those who question why such vast sums cannot be thrown into the community.

Poverty, unemployment and violence have all become firmly rooted issues in the day to day lives of the Dagestani population - problems that show few signs of truly disappearing. Some 40% of the population within Dagestan exist below the poverty line and the persistent religious, political and social tensions that have plagued the Republic - as well as the North Caucasus region - for well over the past decade serve to make progression difficult. The difficulties of the region can be expressed in the fact that Anzhi's squad spend merely a couple of days in Dagestan before home matches due to the fact that their training facilities are just outside Moscow. The club have repeatedly claimed that this is due to a lack of sufficient infrastructure to house a top flight football club however the idea that the region remains too unstable for wealthy footballers to live within continues to persist.

The North Caucasus as a whole has the highest level of youth unemployment in Russia - with Dagestan struggling to offer any resistance against this trend. Accompany this with the fact that the average age of unemployed individuals within the Republic currently sits at 29 then you can begin to understand just why prosperity is kept to a bare minimum. The perceived failures of both the regional and national governments to aid and assist with the plights that the people of Dagestan experience in turn sees an ever growing amount of individuals turn to violence and militancy - as a means of venting their frustrations and sentiments of neglect.

Upon Kerimov's arrival back to his native region he pledged to invest upwards of $1.5 billion dollars into making infrastructural improvements to Dagestan. It would have been logical to assume that such investment would begin with the problems that face citizens on a daily basis - perhaps attempting to decrease unemployment, steering young people away from violence or even improving the hospital and schooling facilities of the region. However Kerimov's pursuit of improvement began with turning Anzhi into a Russian footballing superpower - in a move that is entirely questionable.

This is not to say that Kerimov has not done his fair share of philanthropic work - as the Foundation in his name would testify against. Last year alone the Suleyman Kerimov Foundation donated some $60 million to social, cultural and charitable projects which sought to improve the standard of living across the Russian nation. Kerimov has also provided funding to projects such as a float glass factory in Dagestan which received some $300 million worth of investments thanks to the pockets of the wealthy benefactor and his political clout. The Foundation has also sought to provide schools within Dagestan with improved facilities and computers - as the $37 million investment - or 40% of the Foundations outlay - suggests.

The perception that Kerimov is yet another billionaire owner who is simply intent on the idea of winning is in itself both true and false. There is likely not a single businessman who would be willing to invest vast sums of money into something that they knew would not achieve positive results. Kerimov is determined to make Anzhi a success on the biggest possible stages - namely the Champions League - however there remains a sense of connection with the wider problems that Dagestan faces.

The lack of hope that has been described as an issue within Dagestan is attempting to be eradicated by the successes of Anzhi on the football pitch. Kerimov hopes that the erection of a 40,000 seater stadium - accompanied by a string of other leisure, entertainment and shopping facilities within the complex - will provide a source of both employment and prosperity for present and future generations. The development of Anzhi as a footballing institution is also a means of generating a sense of pride towards being a citizen of Dagestan - which is something that is perhaps relatively weak at the moment.

While Anzhi Makhachkala continue to spend in a manner that makes them the envy of much of European football, Suleyman Kerimov is seeking to instil a new found sense of direction within Dagestan. His development of Anzhi, seemingly, as a primary goal may well be somewhat ill conceived however there are signs that the football club can be a symbol of progression for a region that is trapped in the problems of the past.

Domm is a regular contributor to IBWM and you can follow him on Twitter here.

Posted
AuthorDomm Norris