"Such decisions of the UEFA executive committee contradict the values claimed by UEFA", thundered Anzhi Makachkala director Aivaz Kaziakhmedov. "Uphold the principles of humanity, philanthropy and good in your activity." Kaziakhmedov was speaking in July, referring to UEFA's ruling that Anzhi's home ground in Dagestan was unsafe to host Europa League fixtures. His comments came two months after a suicide attack in Makhachkala, 17 kilometres from Anzhi's stadium in Kaspiysk, had killed 12 and wounded 122.
In fairness to UEFA, Anzhi don't appear to be too convinced with the safety of their homeland, or they wouldn't have their squad train in Moscow and fly down for home games. But that's just sensible protecting of your investment - after all, nobody wants to see Samuel Eto'o blubbing on grainy video footage asking if Mister Putin could please make an exception to his usual policy just this one time. In contrast, it's a surprise that UEFA care in the slightest about the handful of Europa League ultras who are going to be up for a trip to Dagestan.
UEFA has a long and glorious history of eagerly hoovering up every golden ticket they find in the post with scant regard for the small print, but for the first time, there's somewhere they're not prepared to go. You might point about the evils of wealthy chairman, but if you're into that kind of thing, there's a heartwarming tale here. Suleyman Abusaidovich Kerimov is born in Dagestan, then in the USSR. After the communist jig is up, while other future football chairmen are eagerly gathering handfuls of the disintegrating country like first call at a buffet at a Yorkshire wedding, he takes a low-paid job in an electrical plant. Then, as financier, businessman, investor, philanthropist, he makes his fortune, the local boy from the rough neighbourhood done good. Obviously, he buys his beloved local club and pumps mind-bending amounts of money into them.
And now they're refusing to let him host European games! Isn't this just a classic tale of the American dream? Alright, we're in the north Caucasus, but the point still stands. What kind of mad hypercapitalist free-for-all is this, anyway? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I thought the Soviet Union called it a day in 1989! Isn't a working Joe entitled to the sweat of his brow, or at least to build a global football empire in the Caucasus mountains? The man's called Suleyman, for god's sake.
The eternal question remains, then - has football sold out, or did it never buy in to begin with? Either way, if football wants to chase the money, they have to accept wherever it's going to lead. Sometimes that's going to take you down some pretty dark roads - roads that occasionally won't be in the world's most expensive air-conditioned hotels in Qatar, but rather next to Islamic militants on the fringes of the Russian empire. What Kaziakhmedov said, "contradicting the values claimed by UEFA", was entirely correct. Remember how Sepp Blatter shrugged off criticism of hosting the World Cup in Qatar with a "we want to take football to different people"? Well, it turns out that the rule only applies if there's a luxury resort in the area. It only took a Dagestani billionaire to reveal what we all knew anyway - UEFA are hypocritical clowns.
Anzhi of course, are an extreme, and it's probable that they'll be by far the most dangerous area to birth a potential European giant - you could scarcely find a more dangerous area anywhere on Earth anyway, let alone within UEFA - but there's a changing of the guard in Europe being accelerated by wealthy chairmen. The balance of power is shifting. Italy have thus far been hardest hit, after the one-by-one toppling of their top clubs, resettling at a level far beyond the glory days. This Juventus team has gone on one of the longest unbeaten runs in Serie A history, but in the Champions League, they've been revealed to be astonishingly mediocre.
So where are we headed? Wherever the money is, of course, and that means your megaclubs like Manchester United, Real Madrid, and Barcelona, who make so much money that they're invulnerable to the continental drift. You can add a few individual wealthy clubs into that - Malaga, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain - and then you can finish with your real future powerhouses, the clubs that are both wealthy and in leagues that are on the up. Shakhtar Donetsk, Zenit St Petersburg, and Anzhi Makhachkala. Italy doesn't have ultra-rich chairmen because the clubs aren't capable of generating ludicrous amounts of income on a global level like Premier League clubs are, and unlike Russia and Ukraine, it's a league on the way down and in a country that's most vulnerable to financial implosion. Billionaires don't invest in something that's on a downward spiral; that's how they got to be billionaires in the first place.
This means, essentially, that football is not some ethereal, otherworldly existence that the escapism it provides would suggest. It's subject to the whims and flows of capital like everything else. Manchester United fans will rightly attack the Glazers for taking money from the club, but they're not doing it because they're terrible people. They almost certainly are terrible people, but they're doing it because it's good business sense - the club makes an exorbitant about of money, so they take a leveraged buyout and use the ridiculous income to prop up their own expensive living and other flagging business interests. Anybody who bought them would do exactly the same thing - there's no point investing in Manchester United because there's no need. They couldn't make any more money if they tried. Winning five titles in five years won't produce a good return on the influx of money required to take them above winning three, so it doesn't happen.
And those forces are the ones that are slowly but surely reshaping Europe on a grand scale. The investment goes where it's needed and where it can make a profit. It was ever thus. It's just that it's a lot easier to do this now, thanks to the increased mobility of capital. The same reason that companies outsource jobs from Europe to Asia means that the footballers will also be heading east, to lower tax rates and expanding markets. If you want to register a complaint, you'd better make sure your club has never poached a player from a smaller team, or offered an agent more money to complete a signing, because it's the same system at work.
So, that's the Brave New World - heading to a purpose-build walled compound in 2017 at great expense to see Manchester City face Anzhi Makhachkala in the Champions League Semi-Final, no doubt with protests from the Mancunian club after Neymar's third goal about how money is ruining football. That's how it's going to be, and that's probably how it's going to stay for the foreseeable future -- as Slavoj Zizek said, "it's easier to imagine the end of the world than imagine the end of capitalism." Hell, at least it keeps it exciting. If you want to chase the money, be prepared for what it entails, and remember the lesson from all the great empires, that all good things must come to an end, and there's always some bigger, scarier -- or in this case wealthier -- tribe coming over the hills. Any man called Suleyman will surely be aware of that fact.