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Final Whistle For Daghestan's Anzhi Makhachkala?

Despite significant investment in players, Anzhi Makhachkala rarely gets more than a few thousand fans at its home games. (file photo)
Despite significant investment in players, Anzhi Makhachkala rarely gets more than a few thousand fans at its home games. (file photo)

The final whistle may be about to blow for Anzhi Makhachkala, a once high-flying soccer team from Daghestan.

High debt and low fan interest could spell the end for a team that once paid millions to attract star players like Samuel Eto'o of Cameroon.

Anzhi had already learned that it was destined to be relegated from Russia's Premiership -- the country's top flight -- to the first division, actually the country's second highest division of professional soccer. But in mid-May the club failed to secure its license, as RIA Novosti reported.

The reason? Unpaid wages to players and staff that amount to more than $1 million.

Desperate fans have reached out to team owner to save the club.

Anzhi Makhachkala's owner Suleiman Kerimov (file photo)
Anzhi Makhachkala's owner Suleiman Kerimov (file photo)

"We are sure that deep in your heart you would be ashamed if a club in which so much time, effort, and emotion has been invested, were to die. Over the past year, we have become convinced that aside from you there is no one who can save Daghestan's main sports symbol, thanks to which Dagestan is known throughout the world," said an appeal posted on May 17 on the Russian VKontakte social-media site.

Fresh Injection?

Kerimov, ranked 258 on Forbes list of the world's wealthy, has so far not announced any fresh injection of capital to keep the club afloat.

"The question of the club's continued survival is now on the line," Magomed Batyrov, a regional soccer commentator, told RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service. "The club failed to get its license on the first try, but they have a second chance. By the end of May they need to fix everything and find money."

According to Batyrov, unpaid wages and other debts at Anzhi total 80 million rubles ($1,238,400).

Batyrov lists what he predicts are the three likeliest scenarios for cash-strapped Anzhi.

"First, the owner comes up with the money and pays off the players and the team play in the first division next season. Second, the money is not found and the team folds. And third, and I think this is most probable, the money to cover the debt is found, but the team plays in the second division, where expenses will be lower," Batyrov predicted.

Public Indifference

Hardcore fans admit public interest in the team has eroded.

Marat Magomedkhanov said Anzhi's fan club, the Wild Division, has only about 300 members and that home attendance rarely rises above 3,000, far below the stadium's capacity of 30,000.

What doesn't seem under threat is the club's youth academy, which gets funding from the Daghestani Sports Ministry, according to Magomedkhanov.

"Thanks to Anzhi, young people have something to do. The club needs the younger generation. Right now we have a lot of guys who are playing well. One boy from the academy, Artur Kasabov, plays for the Russian U15 national team."

Others think Daghestan, located in Russia's restive North Caucasus region, has other more pressing issues to tackle than the survival of a soccer team.

"Sport, especially one that expensive, is needed when there is no poverty and all the major problems have been solved, in particular with water, sewage, roads, and hospitals. In my opinion, it's a crime to play soccer when such vital issues are not resolved and the sea smells like a sewer," suggested Ramazan Rabadanov, a civic activist in Daghestan.

According to Rabadanov, the area will "need" Anzhi when "we are a little bit richer."

"But now to buy soccer players for millions, transport them around in airplanes, feed them, and maintain their club grounds is not right," Rabadanov said.

Written by Tony Wesolowsky based on reporting by Bariyat Idrisova, a correspondent for RFE/RL's North Caucasus Service.

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