You likely have never heard of the Republic of Dagostan, a federal subject to the Russian state, but you may have heard of one of their most famous cultural exports: FC Anzhi Makhachkala, a professional football club that boasts a twenty-year history of play in the Russian premiere league, and briefly the European Champions League. Founded just before the fall of the Soviet Union, Anzhi Makhachkala was entered into the second division of the Russian football league the next year.
The first few years of the club’s tenure was relatively unimpressive until a regime change in 1996 brought in a new coach. This proved successful enough to not only compete in the Second Division but also be promoted to the First Division — giving the club a better chance at drawing fans, signing marquee free agents, or competing for a shot at entrance to the European Champions League. After a first-place finish in 1999, the franchise entered the Champions League and came within a whisker of snatching the seed necessary for advancement: they fell short of the bronze, having been sunk by a last-minute penalty in the clinching game. The 1999 finish remains the best performance that the team has yielded to date. After 2002, the team was relegated back to First Division: it would be seven years before they could climb back up to the top of the Russian league and merit a spot on the biggest stage.
The Russian League has always had scrutiny due to the close connection of sports and politics, and FC Anzhi Makhachkala is not immune to criticism of its operations. A Russian billionaire with close ties to Dagostan’s president purchased a 100% stake in the club in 2011, effectively giving him unlimited control over operations. As such, plans to renovate the team’s stadium with a two hundred million dollar facelift (making it capable of conforming to the European League standards) have gone forward with barely a peep. What’s more, the team since 2011 has opened its checkbook to sign marquee free agents including Robert Carlos, a member of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning team. Carlos has also been named team captain for the upcoming season.