Zenit players revolt over Hulk purchase
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Several Zenit players boycott training as a reaction to the high transfer salary the club paid for striker Hulk.REUTERS photoRussian champions Zenit Saint Peterbsurg were in danger of descending into civil war yesterday after senior players protested at the signing of Brazilian superstar striker Hulk.
Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel were signed earlier this month for a reported total of 100 million euros from Portuguese clubs Porto and Benfica - a sum underwritten by the state’s enormous Gazprom gas empire that sponsors the team.
The club has failed to win its last four games - losing three and drawing one - and seen Hulk express his displeasure over some of the Russians’ commitment.
Stars such as leading scorer Alexander Kerzhakov and new Russian captain Igor Denisov reportedly boycotted training earlier this week and were ordered by coach Luciano Spalletti to train subsequently with the youth squad.
Kerzhakov had also expressed sympathy with Denisov’s new wage demands.
“The truth is, all is not quiet with the team,” Spalletti told reporters in a voice approaching a whisper late Saturday.
“Some players think that this sort of agitation is the right solution for the club right now,” he added in comments that appeared to confirm rumours of a team revolt.
“But they have to understand that their line of thinking is unfair.” Sources on the team said Denisov had himself refused to take to the pitch for training this week and was sent down with Kerzhakov before the club managed to eke out a 2-2 draw away to traditional strugglers Samara.
Their position was reportedly backed by the influential starting goalkeeper Vyaceslav Malafeyev as well as the veterans Vladimir Bystrov and Alexander Anyukov -- all three of them current or former national team players.
Hulk for his part used the match to open his Russian account with a trademark blistering shot from outside the penalty area that crept in under the crossbar.