Many things separate Manchester, in the heart of North West England, and Makhachkala, in the heart of the Republic of Dagestan - one of the federal subjects of Putin's Russian Federation. Aside from differing demographics, culture and general levels of wealth, this weekend has seen another aspect added to the list as each city's footballing Nouveau Riche experienced irrefutably different results when faced against the traditional standard bearers of each country's Premier League.
Manchester City, backed by the royal fortunes of Sheikh Mansour, and Anzhi Makhachkala, backed by the entrepreneurial wealth of Suleyman Kerimov, each sought to test their progress against more experienced, more successful and more extensively supported title rivals this weekend. That the blue side of Manchester comfortably shot six past neighbours United vividly contrasted with Anzhi, who managed to ship five at home to CSKA Moskva. The 5-3 defeat - should have, at least - underlined to Kerimov that despite splurging roubles on Samuel Eto'o and Yuri Zhirkov the club's progress is still very much an on going project. But football, as opposed to Kantian philosophy, does not take the path of inevitable progress for granted.
Kerimov is now, after facing the harsh realities of what it takes to drag a provincial side up from mediocrity, faced with a quandary of sorts. It's now approaching the first year anniversary of the Dagestani billionaire's complete takeover of the club and, if we compare and contrast with the long and winding road taken (not by Simon and Garfunkel, but) by Manchester City then we can see certain parallels.
After Sheikh Mansour's influx of capital, on the last day of the summer transfer window of 2008, City purchased Robinho as their statement of intent. Anzhi have trod a similar path with the signing of Samuel Eto'o from Inter Milan, however, the real intrigue lies with the second year of transfer dealings. Here Manchester City, at the time managed by Mark Hughes, opted for proven Premier League quality in the form of Kolo Toure, Shay Given, Emmanuel Adebayor, Gareth Barry, Carlos Tevez, Roque Santa Cruz and Joleon Lescott. Kerimov can now either follow this path in transferring players that are accustomed to life in Russian football, also weakening rivals by purchasing their players, or as I fear may be the case, the owner can continue the insane media-driven frenzy of ‘who have Anzhi been linked with today?' Raul, Pavlyuchenko, Dzagoev, Gattuso, Arshavin and Van Bommel are just an extremely truncated list of who Anzhi have been linked with in the past few weeks. With each being less likely than the others.
It is of course, as with any football match - and usually within the English media - easy to read too much into the result of one football result. A bad performance can come about for any number or reasons without the whole direction of the club having to be derailed or altered. And aside from Anzhi's issues with progress, the brilliant spectacle that the match created reminded commentators and fans of two important but often-undervalued schools of thought in Russian football. One being an appreciation of the sheer excellence of Seydou Doumbia, eclipsing Aleksandr Kerzhakov and Samuel Eto'o again to cement his place as the hottest striking talent in the Russian Premier League. And the other, possibly more important for the future of the Russian game, being the continued sublime performances of the genius that is Alan Dzagoev. Oh, those Ossetians.