Eto'o committed to Anzhi project
Anzhi Makhatchkala did not feature on Samuel Eto'o's radar when he left Cameroon to pursue his football dream at the age of 13, yet he has no regrets about taking his considerable talents to deepest, darkest Dagestan.
It's hard to imagine a new European sporting superpower emerging amid a backdrop of ethnic unrest in Makhatchkala that forces Anzhi's players to live and train in Moscow and commute on a plane for home matches, yet the presence of former Barcelona and Inter Milan striker Eto'o confirms the club's ambitions are real.
The mind-boggling £18.6 million-a-year contract Anzhi benefactor Suleiman Kerimov used to entice Eto'o from Inter Milan last summer set tongues wagging throughout Europe. With the scale of their ambition and financial clout confirmed, this January transfer window promises to throw up more lucrative deals as Anzhi plot an improbable route to the summit of the European game.
Publicly at least, Eto'o insists his motivation to ply his trade in Russia is not inspired merely by financial riches, and was quick to hit back at those who toss such accusations in his direction.
"I am constantly offended by the theory that I'm only here for the money," said Eto'o, who scored eight times in his first 11 games for Anzhi at the back end of 2011. "I mean, do these so-called experts really think that my contract with Anzhi is the first time in my career that I have earned big money?
"Inter Milan and Barcelona don't pay peanuts, you know. It makes me mad to hear those who don't know me and can only guess at my motivations, shout from the rooftops that I'm a sell-out, that I have taken some sort of soft option.
"Of course, there is no point in denying that the excellent financial terms offered to me by Anzhi were part of the consideration for coming here, but just as important to me was the challenge this move represents.
"It's not every day you have the chance of taking part in something so grandiose, of transforming an unknown club into a European force. Battling the odds and making history is what drives me and Anzhi offer me all of that.
"My role in the Champions League victories of Barca and Inter fills me pride and satisfaction. My calling card is a good one. However you do pause and re-evaluate when you reach the age of 30. I won virtually every trophy in the game and the yet a thought nagged away at me. What next? Do I stick or twist?
"I could easily have stayed at Inter or moved to France or England, but that was not the obvious choice for me. I had a burning desire to go off on a tangent, do something wild and different and that is when Anzhi came along."
While Eto'o was in the right place at the right time as Anzhi looked to make a statement of their intent to challenge the continent's best with the capture of an A-List performer, he appears to be enthused by the project the club are putting together. He predicts the financial muscle behind the club can change the face of Russian and European football. "I'm a guy who always needs fresh inspiration, who hates resting on his laurels," he states. "To some, the goal of turning Anzhi into a Champions League team is impossible, but not for me. For the club owner and others in positions of responsibility here, it's not a fantasy at all, which is why I'm energized by this project.
"We have the unbreakable will, the financial means and a proper plan. The economic power is naturally vital, but that alone will not be enough. The mentality here is to be rational, so there will be no scattergun approach to buying players. We know it will not be enough just to sign up eleven superstars as the guys who come in have to completely believe in our project.
"The aim is to construct a solid team, a squad with depth and bit by bit build a totally professional club. This is a story of huge ambition plus realism. Appetite comes with eating. Not so long ago Anzhi were in relegation trouble and now we are amongst the leaders in Russia. The improvements can already be seen."
Tottenham striker Roman Pavlyuchenko, Arsenal's Andrei Arshavin, Chelsea's Didier Drogba and Real Madrid's Kaka are among the stellar names being linked, with Anzhi's chief salesman providing these words.
"I would advise any player who is offered the chance to come to Anzhi to put their pre-conceptions to one side and give it a go," he stressed. "The standards here are improving fast and there's a lot of good football played. This is a championship on the up and the World Cup will be in town in a not-too distant future.
"The Russian League has a bright future and it's not just me saying this. Ask the large number of European-based pros who are asking their agents to look into a move out here and they realise that a new power base of European football is starting to take hold."
Even though most sides would find it inconceivable to join any future bidding wars that may open up for Eto'o, talk of him moving to Qatari-financed Paris Saint Germain will not go away, inspiring the striker to quash the rumours.
"I have a lot of time for PSG as a club and they are going places with their new owners," he states. "The appointment of Carlo Ancelotti as coach and the sums they are investing in top-quality players speaks volumes, but my links with the club are for others to make.
"All I can reiterate is that I'm under contract to Anzhi Makhatchkala and I am enjoying myself in the Russian League. I've only been here since August, so my Russian adventure has only just begun. I'm in this for the long haul and if all goes according to plan, maybe I can end my career with Anzhi."
History may one day confirm that the signing of Eto'o fired the starting gun on an Anzhi project that changed the face of European football forever, but it still seems hard to imagine that money alone can transform a club that has barely registered in the conscience of football fans into a giant capable of taking on the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid, Manchester United and AC Milan.
Far too many obstacles appear to be blocking Anzhi's dreams to become the next big thing, yet few believed this time last year that the great Samuel Eto'o would be leading their line at the start of 2012. This story has only just begun.