Samuel Eto'o and the club that are making him the best-paid footballer in the world
Samuel Eto'o is on the verge of becoming the most highly-paid player in the history of football when his move from Inter Milan to Russian club FC Anzhi Makhachkala is confirmed shortly.
Anzhi will pay Internazionale a fee of 27 million euros, with a three-year contract paying Eto'o an annual salary of more than 20 million euros a season - £340,000 a week. The next highest earners, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, command 12 million and 10.5 million euros in annual wages respectively.
The Cameroon striker scored 37 goals in all competitions for Inter last season, winning the Champions League with the Italian side in 2010 having won it the season before with Spanish giants Barcelona. The two European triumphs made up Continental Trebles in both years, making Eto's the only player to have ever won two European Continental Trebles, let alone consecutively. In his five years at the Catalan club he won an additional Champions League title in 2006 and three La Liga titles. He has been named as African Player of the Year a record four times, has won over 100 international caps, a gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics and two African Cup of Nations. In short he is the most successful African player of all-time - and at the age of just 30 still at the height of his powers.
(Left) Eto'o in action for Barcelona during the 2009 Champions League Final
Which is why - the vast sums of money involved aside - the move is a baffling one for Eto'o. In Milan he was living in one of the most cultured cities in the world, playing in one of the strongest leagues in Europe and was guaranteed Champions League football. He was hardly underpaid either - the 8 million euros he earned annually in wages and endorsements ranked him, in Forbes reckoning, as the 10th highest-paid player in the world. Additionaly why a player who has admirably been an outspoken critic of the racism he has experienced in Spain and Italy would want to subject himself to the xenophobia widely prevalent among 'ethnic' Russian football fans towards non-Slavic foreigners and teams from the Caucasus, like Anzhi, is also hard to understand.
His new club FC Anzhi Makhachkala are located in the capital of the volatile province of Dagestan. It is one of Russia's poorest - it would take the average Dagestan citizen 70 years to earn what Eto'o will earn in a month - and is also one of the most dangerous, bordering Chechnya and experiencing ethnic tensions and regular clashes between security forces and an ongoing Islamic insurgency. In the last two weeks there have been several violent incidents including a bomb blast in a grocery store (a second bomb detonating after police and rescue workers had arrived) and a fire-fight between government troops and agitators which involved air strikes and left 10 people dead. Neither are particularly unusual for the region.
(Above) Anzhi captain Roberto Carlos, shots for Real Madrid back in 2000
But like everything in life, and especially football, money talks and the purchase of the club in January by local Oligarch Suleyman Kerimov has persuaded players such as Roberto Carlos, ex Chelsea defender Yuri Zhirkov, young Brazilian striker Diego Tardelli, PSV Eindhoven's Hungarian winger Balazs Dzsudzsak and now Eto'o to see past the obvious disadvantages of playing for a team that have to live and train 2,000 km away in Moscow and travel two hours by plane for home games in an outdated 16,000 seater stadium. Kerimov is reckoned to be the 118th richest person in the world with a net worth of $7.8 billion and has shown himself exceptionally willing to pay over the odds to attract big names. 37 year old Carlos, the club captain, was recently gifted a £1 million Bugatti Veyron by the new owner. However the ex-Brazil international is adamant, as Eto'o is also likely to be in public, that it is not the money that has attracted him to the western shore of the Caspian Sea but instead the chance to 'make history'. The 2002 World Cup-winning left back also added that "a Bugatti is basically the same as a bicycle; it's just a mode of transport...in Brazil, I had a helicopter."
However Anzhi are currently 4th in the Russian Premier League after 21 games this season and in with an excellent chance of qualification for the Champions League next year, adding real credence to Kerimov's dream of building a football powerhouse in such an unlikely location. The acquisition of Eto'o, far from a fading star like Carlos, is only likely to increase the chances of success, and with other big name signings strongly rumoured (Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben the most prominent) then the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea could soon be making the trip to Makhachkala. That is unless security concerns mean the game has to be played at a neutral location - as was the case when Rangers emerged victorious in Warsaw in Anzhi's only European adventure to-date back in 2001.