A number of clubs in different leagues have been taken over by foreign investors in recent times. The sudden injection of cash has enabled these teams to bolster their squads and challenge established powers in their respective leagues. Some teams on the other hand, have brought in an army of new players to regain lost glory. TheHardTackle takes a look at five such clubs, which have built strong teams to challenge for top honours.
For a club that was probably known better for its unpronounceable name, Anzhi has made improvements by leaps and bounds this season. Russian football has been filled with money in recent times with the likes of Zenit St. Petersburg spending their way to success. Anzhi’s status as an obscure Russian club was drastically changed when billionaire and philanthropist Suleyman Kerimov bought the club and began a spending spree.
Their first big signing was the legendary Roberto Carlos who arrived on a free transfer from Corinthians. Fellow Brazilian Joao Carlos left Belgian champions Genk to join the club from Dagestan while Diego Tardelli signed a three year contract. The fourth Brazilian to join Anzhi was highly rated 23 year old defensive midfielder Jucilei.
Former Ajax and Chelsea youth product and winger Mbark Boussoufa was signed from Anderlecht but it’s his partner on the opposite flank who was the marquee signing. Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak had been linked to clubs like AC Milan, Juventus and Chelsea but he made a shock move to join Anzhi from PSV. The left-winger was reportedly bought for a transfer fee of 14 million Euros but what really sealed the deal was a whopping 300% increase in his salaries. His decision has been severely criticized in some quarters. Few days back they acquired the services of Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea. Zhirkov didn’t have best of times in EPL but he is a proven player in Russia.
The club has also been linked to the likes of Andrei Arshavin, Samuel Eto’o and Gattuso in recent times. Under these circumstances the pressure on manager Gadzhi Gadzhiev will be extreme as he is expected to deliver results quickly. The coach has a decent amount of success with the Russian national team but has a majorly ordinary career in club level.
The Russian season is already half way through and Anzhi’s title chances don’t look encouraging. They lie in 5th position and 11 points behind leaders CSKA Moscow but reinforcements in current transfer window will give them a major push in second half of the season. In their last encounter they thumped Rubin with a 3-0 score line in one of the toughest away trips in the league. Should they qualify for European football next season, expect more headline grabbing transfers from Anzhi Makachakla.
The gulf of class between Real Madrid and Barcelona with rest of the teams in La Liga has grown with an alarming pace in recent seasons. The La Liga is slowly becoming a glamorized version of Scottish Premier League where one of the two heavy weights is guaranteed to win the title even before the season starts. Under such conditions only the deep pockets of an owner can make rest of the clubs competitive – something the Andalusian club can boast of. Malaga was purchased by Qatari oil baron Abdullah bin Nasser bin Abdullah Al Ahmed Al Thani and has proceeded to assemble one of the strongest squads in Spain.
Clubs that don’t have any past success but have suddenly suffered a doping of money often make the mistake of going for players while ignoring managers. Malaga certainly hasn’t made that mistake as they have hired Manuel Pellegrini – one of the most respected coaches in La Liga in recent times. The Andaluscians have put together a team, which possesses the correct balance between experience and youth. Veterans Julio Baptista and Ruud van Nistelrooy, have re-joined forces to add firepower upfront. Villarreal’s standout performer from last season, Santi Cazorla, was signed in one of the more high profile Spanish transfers of current window. The explosive but inconsistent Joaquin Sanchez has joined from Valencia to bolster the wings. Ex-River Plate wingman Diego Buonanotte is likely to partner Joaquin on opposite flank. Tough tackling Jeremy Toulalan will add steel to a midfield, which is already bristling with creativity.
Los Boquerones hasn’t made the error of over-investing in attack as they have brought in reinforcements in defence and have signed Sergio Asenjo, one of the brightest ‘keeping prospects in Spain.
Malaga may not be good enough to challenge for the Liga crown yet but they can certainly topple the likes of Valencia or Villarreal and capture a coveted spot in Champions League.
Paris St. Germain
The former UEFA Cup Winners Cup and two time French champions are is hardly a club without reputation but they have struggled in Ligue-1 in last decade. PSG have done well in French Cup in last few seasons but they failed to challenge the likes of Lyon or Marseille in league. On 31st May, 2011 Qatar Investment Authority bought 70% stake of the club and effectively assumed control of its football related activities. Since May, PSG has become one of the most active clubs in transfer window making numerous big signings.
Pastore, PSG’s marquee signing
Two of their biggest signings have come as a result of raiding Serie A side Palermo. Salvatore Sirigu, tipped to be the successor to Gigi Buffon, was bought for an amount of 5.5 million Euros. However, their marquee signing was explosive Argentine Javier Pastore. The 22-year playmaker had been linked with bigwigs like AC Milan and Chelsea but chose to join PSG for a French record transfer fee of 37 million pounds. Nene was impressive for PSG last season notching up 14 goals despite lacking support from his opposite wing. To fix this issue Jeremy Menez has been brought in after spending three seasons at AS Roma.
Balise Matuidi and Momo Sissoko will provide muscle in central midfield. PSG have a perfect team to utilize a dynamic 4-2-3-1 formation with Menez, Pastore and Nene playing behind Kevin Gameiro. These new players will add more strength to a squad already boasting one of the most highly rated defenders in Europe right now – Mamadou Sakho.
The Ligue-1 has seen new champions in each of last three seasons – a far cry from the days of Lyon dominance. Given PSG’s squad depth there is every chance France will see yet another different champion this season.
After coming tantalizingly close to capturing their fourth Scudetto two seasons back, the Giallorossi look all set to mount a fresh challenge for holders AC Milan. The new owners have appointed former Palermo Sporting Director Walter Sabatini to handle transfer while Luis Enrique has been hired from Barcelona’s famous La Masia Academy.
The capital club has taken two big risks this season by roping in Bojan Krcic and Erik Lamela. These two are possibly two of the most talented starlets around currently but they also lack experience in Serie A’s complex and tactical set-up. Roma also let go of Mirko Vucinic, a man who possesses a wealth of Serie A experience to make room for these youngsters. Another prized catch for Roma was Dutch #1 Maarten Stekelenburg. The former Ajax ‘keeper will give Roma stability in a position where they have suffered in last few seasons.
Veteran Gabriel Heinze has been ensnared from Olympic Marseille. The former Man United stopper may not be at his peak now but he is a competent bench player. Another important signing was ex-Milan striker Marco Boriello. Boriello impressed in his loan spell last season – scoring 15 goals for Roma. Mareseill’s midfield general Lucho Gonzalez is also being linked to the Lupi and can potentially form a lethal combination with Daniel De Rossi.
Roma’s hopes of having a good season will depend completely on how Enrique settles down in Serie A. He doesn’t have any prior experience of coaching a senior side and has been entrusted with the job of leading one of Italy’s biggest clubs to glory. If Bojan, Lamela and their coach find their feet quickly then Roma will be one of the teams to beat in this season’s Serie A.
Former Cup Winners’ Cup winners Sporting hasn’t won a league title since 2001/02 season. The club, one of Portugal’s “big three” teams has fallen behind the likes of Porto and Benfica in last few seasons. In order to reverse this worrying trend the Leoes management has made wholesale changes in this year’s team – bringing in 14 new players in the squad till date. Sporting Lisbon has brought a host of players who are aged between 20 and 22. Their current team can either guarantee long term success or abject failure due to lack of experienced heads.
One of their most important signings is Diego Capel – the Spanish left-winger who was immensely impressive for Sevilla. Capel, who has played in every under-age national team for his country was linked with a move to Real Madrid two season’s back. Still just 23, he promises to be one of the future stars for club and country. Jeffren Suarez, a highly rated product of Barcelona’s famous La Masia Academy joined Sporting for a fee of 3.7 million Euros. Suarez has struggled with fitness in recent times but his talent has always been beyond doubt. 22-year-old Dutch sensation Ricky van Wolfswinkel has been integrated into the squad from FC Utrecht. Another big Dutch signing is Stijn Schaars. Schaars, ex Euro winning Dutch U21 captain, played a crucial part in AZ Alkmar’s Eredivisie winning campaign in 2008/09 season.
American centre-back Oguchi Onyewu didn’t enjoy his time in Serie A with AC Milan. Injuries plagued his first season while poor form affected his eventual loan spell in FC Twente. Onyewu is a quality defender and would be looking to revive his career in Portuguese Liga. To add more steel to central midfield Fabian Rinaudo has been bought from Argentine club Gimnasia y Esgrima de La Plata. The 24-year-old defensive midfielder has an experience of playing over 100 games in Argentine league.
Sporting management has wasted no time to rope in the right man to coach this team – Domingos Paciência. Paciência was lauded for his tactical setup with FC Braga last season. Under him Braga delivered peerless defensive performances to reach Europa League final against all odds. Both FC Porto and Benfica seem to be entering a transition phase after hugely successful recent seasons. This might be the perfect time for Sporting to resurrect their lost glory.