Conor McStay looks back on a season of what-ifs for ambitious Anzhi.
How has this term compared to pre-season expectations?
Par for the course really, no major difference position wise from last year. Juggling a Europa League campaign alongside the league performance relatively successfully is always a good thing, especially in trying to improve the reputation of the club to foreign players. However, to be honest, being top of the league at the start of the winter break only to drop down to third is annoying. Even still, there’s a Russian Cup final to be played too against CSKA Moscow, which can be the final chance for silverware.
Happy with the gaffer?
Yes, and if Hiddink leaves I’ll be disappointed. Getting a manager with enough European experience as well as being acclimatised in Russia would be no mean feat. Unfortunately he’s yet to commit to Anzhi for next year which is worrying, and as long as Chelsea don’t confirm their manager for next year there’s always a suspicion that he’ll go back to London. If he does go, Dick Advocaat (A UEFA Cup with Zenit St Petersburg) is being lined up as a replacement.
Who has been the stand-out performer?
In terms of standing out, the 6”8 frame of Lacina Traore springs to mind in both senses here. The second highest scorer in the league has gone out of his way to show Zenit what they missed out on (they opted to sign Hulk instead). At only 22, he has many good years ahead of him provided no other clubs come in for him. After him, it would be Samuel Eto’o, and the potential that Willian has excites me too. The transfer fee of over €30 million obviously puts pressure on, but I’m certain that if he settles, he’ll flourish playing behind Eto’o and Traore.
Is there anyone you’d happily open the exit door for?
Not just yet, no. With a squad under construction which is meant to challenge for the league depth is a necessity, and it’s lacking at the minute. It’s always good to have young Russian talent like Oleg Shatov, or squad players like Ewerton and Carcela-Gonzalez to fall back on whenever better players inevitably get injured. Only when the squad is big enough to justify letting people go would I be happy to show players the door.
What would you have done different if installed in the dug-out last summer?
Tried my hardest to keep Chris Samba, the man was a massive loss in the second season and probably was one of the reasons why the first league title in their history has to wait another year. It’s true that there were incidents involving racist abuse and reports of homesickness so he can’t be judged for wanting to move back to England if that is the case however. What I would have done however, was getting in any centre back to try and replace him. To get someone of his standards would have been rare but any kind of replacement would have done the job, considering money is no real object.
What has been the highlight of the season?
Eto’o’s goal in the Europa League against AZ Alkmaar springs to mind. Picking the ball up 25 yards from goal, he slaloms past five AZ defenders before firing across the goalkeeper and finding the back of the net. Truly magical stuff from one of the best paid players on the planet. Overall, the whole Europa League campaign was a positive, and I wouldn’t have ruled out beating Newcastle at home in the round of 16 if Willian hadn’t got injured so early on into the game.
Who should Anzhi target to improve them?
First off, a new centre-back. Even though Hiddink has said in the past that they will no longer throw money at players in order to get them to join, but if there was one exception to this rule then it would be a top class centre back. Going down the South American youth route would be a risk, but one that could pay off (such as Spartak Moscow with Romulo and Carioca). From a European point of view, Felipe Santana (Dortmund), Michael Mancienne (Hamburg) and Adil Rami (Valencia) have been linked to the club recently.  Secondly, a new goalkeeper is needed. Victor Valdes was a name mentioned amongst rumours but this has since been denied.