Football: Russian captain Denisov set to lead Anzhi exodus

Russia captain Igor Denisov was set Thursday to be the first in an expected exodus of star names from big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala.

Anzhi's billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov decided on Wednesday to drastically cut the Caspian Sea side's budget and scale down its ambitions after spending more than 200 million euros on the club's development.

Kerimov's largesse saw stars such as Cameroon marksman Samuel Eto'o propel Anzhi out of the football wilderness and into third place in the Russian Premier League in the 2012-2013 season.

Anzhi had their sights set on a place in the Champions League in 2014 -- an achievement that would have been unthinkable for a squad from the violence-wrecked North Caucasus just a few years ago.

Yet the strategy of enlisting veterans whose careers may have already peaked seemed to backfire at the start of this season when Anzhi grabbed just two points from their first four games.

The Sport Express daily reported on Thursday that three key Russian players -- including Denisov and the former Chelsea left back Yury Zhirkov -- would soon leave Anzhi for rivals Dinamo Moscow.

The R-Sport news agency said Denisov had already agreed the details of a four-year contract with Dinamo that would be disclosed shortly.

"You can now say with full confidence that Denisov will become a Dinamo player," an unnamed source at the Moscow side told R-Sport.

"The contract will be signed shortly and the announcement made public" before Denisov flies to Northern Ireland for Russia's World Cup qualifier in Belfast on August 14.

Sport Express said that prominent foreigners such as Eto'o -- purchased in a 22-million-euro ($29-million) transfer in August 2011 -- and Brazil's attacking midfielder Willian would be leaving Russia within the coming weeks.

Other players reportedly headed for the door include Ivorian striker Lacina Traore and French defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra.

"Most of Anzhi's foreign stars will continue their careers abroad," the daily wrote while noting that none of them had concrete offers from other sides at this time.

A front-page calculation by Sport Express showed Kerimov had spent 234.2 million euros on the transfer market in the past two years.

It was not clear why the commodities tycoon and Russian senate member had decide to shift his strategy after saying he saw an Anzhi revival as the focal point of a drive to improve the quality of life in the struggling Dagestan region.

Sport Express speculated that Anzhi's management had suffered "disappointment" from the team's slow 2013 start.