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Football: Anzhi stars face exit as billionaire pulls plug - reports

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Anzhi Makhachkala's star players were facing a search for new clubs Wednesday after billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov decided to drastically cut the side's budget and scale down its ambitions, according to reports.

Stars including Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o, Brazil's Willian and Russian international Yury Zhirkov could all be looking for new clubs after oligarch Kerimov ordered Anzhi's most expensive players to go, Sport Express daily reported.

Kerimov has yet to comment on the move, which has stunned the Russian football world, but club president Konstantin Remchukov confirmed that Anzhi would be undergoing a "serious shake-up" with a substantially reduced budget of up to $70 million (52 million euros).

Izvestia daily said Zhirkov and Russian international captain Igor Denisov, who only arrived at Anzhi this season from Zenit St Petersburg, have already agreed contracts to join Dinamo Moscow.

Kerimov took over the club at the heart of the restive Russian republic of Dagestan in January 2011 and ploughed huge funds into it, hoping to turn the side into serious contenders for European honours.

But Kerimov experienced stress-related health problems after watching Anzhi's humbling 1-0 home defeat to Rostov on Friday and decided to make a drastic change, Sport Express said.

The paper said that Kerimov held a meeting with Anzhi's players after the Rostov game and promised them the club would meet its financial obligations and help them find new clubs.

Russian media also said that Kerimov suffered huge financial losses from last week's plunge in the share price of the Uralkali Russian potash producer in which he is a main shareholder.

Sport Express said that Kerimov may have lost $500 million in one day after Uralkali effectively ended a price cartel and warned on global potash prices.

The sudden about-turn by the owner of the pre-season title favourites also deals a blow to the image of Russian football as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup.

"If it is not possible to keep the footballers within the limits of the reduced budget then they are going to have to go," wrote Yevgeny Lovchev, the football editor of the Sovyetsky Sport daily.

According to Sport Express, Kerimov said he was not selling the club and that Anzhi's former manager Gadzhi Gadzhiev would take over in the near future.

Gadzhiev will replace Dutch manager Rene Meulensteen, a former assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took over from countryman predecessor Guus Hiddink two weeks ago.

The club's president Remchukov confirmed on his Twitter account that "many of our expensive stars will leave Anzhi, while the club's budget will be decreased to $50-$70 million a year."

"We failed to clinch rapid success. Now Anzhi will develop its academy according to the medium-term plans of club development."

According to Lovchev, a budget of 50 million euros could still keep the club in the Russian Premier League, as long as Anzhi no longer employ the likes of Eto'o, who was reportedly on a 20 million euro salary.

Hiddink took over as manager in February 2012 and took the club to third place in the 2012/2013 season. In June he extended his contract with the club for another year and many commentators expected Anzhi to challenge for top honours.

But in mysterious circumstances last month, the 66-year-old former Russia manager suddenly stepped down leaving Meulensteen at the helm.

But the Dutchman failed to inspire instant success at Anzhi and the club are without a win this season, sitting 13th in the table with just two points from four matches.

Bringing stars like Eto'o and Roberto Carlos -- who now works in the club administration -- to Anzhi was a fairytale for Dagestan, which is best known to the outside world for the daily attacks carried out by Islamist radicals.

Anzhi play home matches in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala but train in Moscow for security reasons.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130807/football-anzhi-stars-face-exit-billionaire-pulls-plug-reports