MOSCOW // Anzhi Makhachkala's star players were facing a search for new clubs after the billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov decided to drastically cut the side's budget and scale down its ambitions, according to reports in Russia.
Stars including the Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o, Brazil's Willian and the Russian international Yuri Zhirkov have been told to look for new clubs after Kerimov ordered Anzhi's most expensive players to go, Sport Express daily reported.
Kerimov has yet to comment on the move that has stunned the Russian football world, but the club president Konstantin Remchukov confirmed that Anzhi would be undergoing a "serious shake-up" with a substantially reduced budget of up to US$70 million (Dh257m).
Izvestia daily said Zhirkov and the Russian international captain Igor Denisov, who arrived at Anzhi this season from Zenit St Petersburg, have already agreed to join Dinamo Moscow.
Kerimov took over the club at the heart of the restive Russian republic of Dagestan in January 2011 and ploughed huge funds into it, hoping to turn the side into serious contenders for European honours.
But Kerimov experienced stress-related health problems after watching Anzhi's humbling 1-0 home defeat to Rostov on Friday and decided to make a drastic change, Sport Express said.
The newspaper said that Kerimov held a meeting with Anzhi's players after the Rostov game and promised them the club would meet their financial obligations and help them find new clubs.
The Russian media also said that Kerimov suffered huge financial losses from last week's plunge in the share price of the Uralkali Russian potash producer in which he is a main shareholder.
Sport Express said that Kerimov may have lost $500m in one day after Uralkali effectively ended a price cartel and warned on global potash prices.
The sudden about-turn by the owner of the pre-season title favourites also deals a blow to the image of Russian football as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup.
"If it is not possible to keep the footballers within the limits of the reduced budget then they are going to have to go," wrote Yevgeny Lovchev, the football editor of the Sovyetsky Sport daily.
According to Sport Express, Kerimov said he was not selling the club and that Anzhi's former manager, Gadzhi Gadzhiev, would take over in the near future.
Gadzhiev will replace the Dutch manager Rene Meulensteen, a former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took over from his countryman Guus Hiddink two weeks ago.
The club's president, Remchukov, confirmed on his Twitter account that "many of our expensive stars will leave Anzhi, while the club's budget will be decreased to $50-$70 million a year.
"We failed to clinch rapid success. Now Anzhi will develop its academy according to the medium-term plans of club development."
According to Lovchev, a budget of €50 million (Dh243.8m) could keep the club in the Russian Premier League, as long as Anzhi no longer employ the likes of Eto'o, who was reportedly on a €20m salary.
Hiddink took over as manager in February 2012 and took the club to third place in the 2012/2013 season. In June he extended his contract with the club for another year and many commentators expected Anzhi to challenge for top honours.
But in mysterious circumstances last month, the 66-year-old former Russia manager suddenly stepped down, leaving Meulensteen at the helm.
But the Dutchman failed to inspire instant success at Anzhi and the club are without a victory this season, sitting 13th in the table with just two points from four matches.
Bringing in stars such as Eto'o and Roberto Carlos - who now works in the club administration - to Anzhi was a fairy tale for Dagestan, which is best known to the outside world for the daily attacks carried out by Islamist radicals.
Anzhi play home matches in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala but train in Moscow for security reasons.