Soccer politics: Anzhi Makhachkala and the dangers of Dagestan

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Russian Premier League club Anzhi Makhachkala’s fortunes continued to deteriorate on Monday after authorities in Belarus issued a warrant for its owner’s arrest. Suleyman Kerimov, who is also the majority shareholder and co-owner of Uralkali, a Moscow-based potash company, is under investigation for corruption.

Kerimov lost a reported $375 million when Uralkali’s stock plummeted in August, prompting him to put every potentially lucrative player on the squad up for sale and decrease the team’s budget by $50 to $70 million a year. The club’s two biggest names, Samuel Eto’o and Willian, both joined fellow Russian-tycoon-turned-soccer-owner Roman Abramovich at Chelsea.

Officials in Belarus have now put Kerimov on Interpol’s most wanted list, after Uralkali CEO Vladislav Baumgertner was charged and detained in Belarus in late August. Russian news agency RT reported that Baumgertner is currently being held at a KGB jail in Minsk, the Belarusian capital, possibly in solitary confinement.

Relations between Russia and Belarus have been strained since the fall of the Soviet Union, with the Uralkali situation acting as another flash point.

As with most clubs and countries in Eastern Europe, to understand the politics of soccer, understanding the machinations of government is vital. Particularly in former Soviet spaces, the two have always been and will likely always be intertwined.

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The location of Makhachkala and the region of Dagestan (in red) on a map. (Source: Google Maps)

Kerimov took over Anzhi in January 2011, investing heavily to turn it into one of Europe’s superclubs before the recent reversal. Many fans in the area saw the club as a constructed distraction from the civil war in the Dagestan region, a conflict that has hampered Anzhi’s efforts to play home matches this year.

The team lives and trains just outside Moscow and flies to home games in Makhachkala under heavy guard, and in June, UEFA banned all competitive matches in continental competitions from taking place in Dagestan during the 2013/14 season. In the 2001/02 UEFA Cup, Anzhi had to play Rangers FC of Scotland in Warsaw, Poland, because of the unstable situation in neighboring Chechnya.

Now, that situation has shifted slightly east.

The region of Dagestan hit headlines in the United States after the April 15 bombings at the Boston Marathon finish line. The two suspects in the attack lived briefly in Dagestan before coming to the U.S.

While Anzhi Makhachkala club officials have claimed that soccer can change the situation in Dagestan, many others in the region say the club’s exploits are meant to be a diversion from the widespread unemployment, corruption and sheer poverty of the area.

Some suspect that Kerimov’s heavy initial investment was nothing more than a public-relations scheme from the Kremlin to purify the area’s image ahead of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, just 600 miles away from Makhachkala by road on the Black Sea coast. Two years ago, the BBC declared Dagestan “the most dangerous place in Europe,” citing the almost-daily bombings, shootouts and perpetual ruin.

As far as distractions go, Anzhi’s fortunes since Kerimov bought the club have proven useful. Top-five league finishes, deep runs in the Russian Cup and a Round of 16 appearance in the Europa League represented the club’s two best seasons in the top division since Anzhi’s inception in 1991.

But with Kerimov taking a public step back from the club and his recent off-field business troubles coming to light, the distraction may be over, despite a draw in the 2013/14 Europa League that includes Tottenham Hotspur.

Just as the music stops and the lights come back on at the end of a long night out, the party seems to be over in Makhachkala. And the situation outside is nothing to celebrate.

UCL AT HALF: Bale scores; Spurs lead, Man City and Reds level (video)

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Two Premier League sides are level, Spurs lead, and Real Madrid has luckily kept a Gareth Bale-authored lead thanks to some goofy officiating on the second match day of group stage play at the UEFA Champions League.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 


Sevilla 2-0 Maribor

Wissam Ben Yedder has goals in both of Sevilla’s UCL qualifiers and now both group stage matches after netting a 27th minute marker in Spain. He’s added another before the break.

Spartak Moscow 1-1 Liverpool

Loris Karius will not enjoy the replay of a 23rd minute free kick given away by Philippe Coutinho, and he especially won’t enjoy his slow reaction to a free kick from Fernando (not that Fernando) which was not hit too near a post.

Coutinho made amends with a solidly struck equalizer just after the half-hour mark, working a 1-2 with Mane and lacing a shot beyond the hopes of Rebrov.

Besiktas 2-0 RB Leipzig

A man with a Liverpool connection is on the board in the form of Ryan Babel, and Anderson Talisca added a marker before halftime to double the Turkish side’s lead.

Manchester City 0-0 Shakhtar Donetsk

Fairly even at the Etihad Stadium, with Kevin De Bruyne missing a solid chance and Ederson denying Marlos at the other end.

Borussia Dortmund 0-1 Real Madrid

Gareth Bale’s 18th minute goal has the double-defending champions up at the Westfalenstadion.

By the way, this was somehow not a penalty:

 

Napoli 1-0 Feyenoord

A sneaky side to watch in the tournament, Napoli leads through Lorenzo Insigne.

Monaco 0-1 Porto

Cameroon star Vincent Aboubakar scores against Ligue 1 opposition.

APOEL Nicosia 0-1 Tottenham Hotspur

Harry Kane, guys and girls. The English striker beat an offside trap to a Toby Alderweireld pass and bested the keeper in the 39th minute.

LIVE – UCL: Liverpool, Tottenham, Man City all in action

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Three Premier League teams are in UEFA Champions League action on Tuesday in their second games of the 2017-18 group stage.

[ LIVE: Champions League scores ] 

Tottenham Hotspur head to Cyprus to face APOEL in Nicosia hoping to make it two wins from two, while Manchester City host Ukrainian outfit Shakhtar Donetsk aiming to keep their 100 percent record and Liverpool are in Moscow to play Spartak hoping for a first win of the group stage.

Elsewhere Real Madrid head to Borussia Dortmund (Christian Pulisic alert) in a mouth-watering clash at the Westfalenstadion and Napoli host Feyenoord in another eye-catching tie.

Click on the link above to follow commentary on all the action, while below is the full schedule as we will have reaction and analysis on all the UCL action on Tuesday.

All games kick off at 2:45 p.m. ET.


Tuesday’s UCL schedule

Group E
Spartak Moscow vs. Liverpool
Sevilla vs. Maribor

Group F
Manchester City vs. Shakhtar Donetsk
Napoli vs. Feyenoord

Group G
Monaco vs. FC Porto
Besiktas vs. RB Leipzig

Group H
APOEL vs. Tottenham Hotspur
Borussia Dortmund vs. Real Madrid

VIDEO: Top Premier League goals – Week 6

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From Fabian Delph‘s curler to Alvaro Morata’s surging run and dink and from Philippe Coutinho‘s perfect free kick to Leroy Sane’s delicate touches.

Boy, did we have some fine strikes in the Premier League in Week 6.

[ LIVE: Stream every Premier League game

Click play on the video above to see the best of the bunch and let us know your favorite in the comments section below.

“What is your favorite?” I hear you cry. Settle down, settle down. I love a good curler which clips off the bar and in so I’m going with Delphy’s goal against Crystal Palace. Sublime.

PHOTO: New USMNT jersey for 2018 World Cup leaked?

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Now, of course, they have to qualify first.

But if Bruce Arena’s men do make the 2018 World Cup in Russia they could be wearing this beauty in the photo below.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

With all leaked jerseys there is a real possibility it could turn out to look completely different but information from Conrad Burry of Sportslogos over the weekend suggested something along these lines.

Take a look at the photo below of the home jersey (the away jersey is said to be “Midnight Navy with a second color of Blue Nebula”) and let us know what you think.