Denisov demoted after Zenit criticism
© AFP

Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Igor Denisov has openly criticised the Russian champions for their big-money purchase of Brazilian striker Hulk.

"I would understand if we got [Lionel] Messi or [Andres] Iniesta - they probably deserve any price," said Russia captain Denisov.

"Yes, we bought some nice players who will clearly help Zenit. But are they really so much better than the current team leaders that they deserve to get three times more? Zenit have assembled great players who have won at least as many titles as the new guys."

Denisov and leading league scorer Alexander Kerzhakov were both demoted to the youth squad on Sunday after voicing displeasure at the transfers from the Portuguese league of Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.

The two players were purchased together in early September after a disappointing start to the season that has seen the side squander their lead at the top and drop to fourth.

The club issued a statement calling Denisov's behavior "unprofessional" and noting that he still had three more years left on a contract that made him one of the highest-paid players in Russia.

"He is discrediting himself as a player for club and country while doing serious damage to his own reputation," Zenit said.