In the early part of the last decade of the twentieth century, the Soviet Union ceased to exist, changing the geopolitical landscape of Europe profoundly and irreversibly. Now, as Europe seems to have settled into its new look map, the landscape of the continent's soccer scene may also be changing profoundly, if not irreversibly.
Manchester City, Malaga and Paris St Germain have, especially in this pre-season, illustrated the power of Europe's nouveau riche with the three oil-backed teams dominating the world's transfer market to sign a list of talented and expensive players from far and wide. This column, however, has been looking further east to the money pouring into Makhachkala and its football team, Anzhi.
It started in January of this year when local politician and self-made billionaire Suleyman Kerimov made a move to become the outright owner of Anzhi, located in Makhachkala - the capital of the Republic of Dagestan and one of the federal subjects of the Russian federation. Kerimov made the $5.5 billion (that Forbes estimate his assets are worth) through an impressive investment portfolio, taking over companies such as Nafta-Moskva and having the financial insight to sell at the right time. Away from finance, he served as a Deputy of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, until 2007 when he made the climb up to the Federation Council of Russia, the upper house of Russia's parliament.
Clearly a man with an impressive CV, Kerimov has made great strides with Anzhi since his takeover was complete. Only formed in 1991, Anzhi have a less than illustrious history which is why, until the recent added financial clout came into the club, many western football aficionados took little interest in the events going on in Russia's southernmost region. Last season they battled to avoid the drop to the murky underworld of the Russian first division but this season, energised by wealth and new players, Gadzhi Gadzhiev's side have upset the apple cart somewhat, beating Rubin Kazan 3-0 in their last fixture and sitting a comfortable fifth in the league.
Anzhi first appeared in western news sources with the signing of legendary Brazilian left-back Roberto Carlos. Many dismissed the former Real Madrid player's acquisition as a mere publicity stunt - and to some extents it was - but Carlos has cemented a footballing fervour in the north Caucasus, combining some impressive displays with the name and prestige to attract other talented footballers. And they came. Following on from their fellow countryman's lead, Brazilian pair Diego Tardelli and Jucilei arrived in Dagestan towards the start of the season but the real ground has been made in the western European off-season.
The signing of PSV Eindhoven winger Balazs Dzsudzsak struck a cord with a number of western journalists who realised, after the lavish fees being thrown around, Anzhi and Kerimov were to be taken seriously. Once he had the attention that the club's progress deserved, Kermiov responded, only a few weeks ago, with an almost outrageous €80 million offer for Inter Milan striker Samuel Eto'o. It is doubtful as to whether a deal for the Cameroonian was ever on the cards and was always far less likely to succeed than the reported €15 million pursuit of Chelsea winger Yuri Zhirkov. What the bid did do, however, was to act as an advertisement to clubs around Europe and the world that Anzhi are here, joining the nouveau riche of this footballing New Europe.
As with any show of wealth - especially in one of Russia's poorest regions - the moves made by the Makhachkala club and it's owner have attracted a considerable amount of criticism from some disgruntled locals. The main issue seems to be the lack of infrastructure, both sporting and otherwise, in the Republic as a whole.
Kerimov, at his political and diplomatic best, has sought to give the people what they want. To appease the disgruntled few, and to illustrate that he's has long-term plans for Anzhi, the man listed one hundred and thirty sixth on the Forbes list of billionaires has promised to pump $1.4 billion into local infrastructure. That includes the construction of a major airport and a top class sporting stadium in Dagestan, able to hold regional and international events. The stadium and attached training complex may mean that Anzhi can finally move to Dagestan because, as things stand, the players live and train in the Moscow suburb of Kratovo, travelling to Makhachkala for matches.
With Suleyman Kerimov's evident desire to project his native Republic to the world, and the broad investment that he is willing to put into both the region's premier football club and the region as a whole, his name is one that we may be hearing for many years to come. Anzhi Makhachkala, for the moment, is a building process, one of the footballing "projects" of the nouveau niche's New Europe but, as is the case with Manchester City, Malaga and Paris St Germain, they are here to stay.