Cameroon star Samuel Eto'o arrived in Moscow today after signing a three-year deal with Russia's new big spenders Anzhi Makhachkala that will reportedly be the most valuable contract in football. The ambitious club from war-torn Dagestan said the four-time African player of the year will wear number 99 for Anzhi after trading in his blue-and-black number nine jersey at Inter.
A beaming Eto'o said on landing in Moscow following a weeks-long transfer saga that decided on the switch because "I have won everything I possibly could have" in Europe. "It was always important for me to be happy - and now I am happy," Eto'o was quoted as saying by the online edition of the Sovietsky Sport daily. "I came to Anzhi because it is a new project and they are starting from scratch. I am interested," he said.
The Cameroon international had earlier published a personal letter on the Inter Milan website thanking fans and coaches for "these two fantastic years that I've spent at Inter". "We sincerely wish Samuel all the best of luck in achieving further success with his new club," Inter said after agreeing a reported €21m ($30.3m) transfer fee with Anzhi.
Eto'o's move from the glitzy Italian city side to the club from the war-torn Caucasus region of Dagestan reportedly makes him the highest paid player in world football. Anzhi transfer negotiator German Tkachenko said the forward's fee would be smaller than the €20m ($29.6m) a year previously reported by the press.
The sport's top stars such as Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona's Lionel Messi are both reported to be on salaries of less than $20m per year. Eto'o was tempted to Russia by the club's new billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov - an oil and metals magnate whose wealth has already brought the Russian left winger Yuri Zhirkov from Chelsea and the veteran international Roberto Carlos from Brazil.
The tiny club was promoted to the top flight after a seven-year absence in 2009 and last year finished 11th in the 16-team league. But Aznhi has soared to fourth this season and is in position to either qualify for the UEFA Champions League or possibly win the Russian title outright. The club's recent lavish spending practices stand out in what is one of Russia's most impoverished and violent regions.
The US-based Human Rights Watch organisation said today that Dagestan's poor human rights recorded deserved more attention from the world media than the signing of Eto'o. "Other records in Dagestan -- specifically its very poor human rights record - also deserve the attention of the world's media," the group said in a statement.
Anzhi players live and train in Moscow for security reasons and only visit the Caspian Sea city for home matches. But the club's manager said Eto'o's transfer was good for both Anzhi and Russian football.
"Eto'o's transfer is a pivotal movement in time for Anzhi," the club's coach Gadzhi Gadzhiyev told the online edition of the Sport Express daily. "He will help us upfront and bring flavour to the national championship," Gadzhiyev said.
Eto'o is scheduled to meet local supporters for the first time on the eve of Anzhi's September 11 home match against the Nizhny Novgorod side Volga. But he said he hoped to see his first action when the club travels for a Saturday mach in Rostov. "I hope that they give me 10 or 15 minutes against Rostov," Eto'o told reporters.