Zenit reveals ambition with swoop of Hulk
MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
EPA photoZenit St Petersburg stunned football by signing Brazilian star Hulk hours before the Champions League eligibility deadline, in a sign the Russian champions’ ambitions go well beyond the domestic game.
In the highest-spending moves in the history of Russian football, Zenit grabbed not only Hulk from Porto but also Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel from fellow Portuguese side Benfica in deals worth a reported total of 100 million euros.
While the Russian game has seen an influx of ageing foreign superstars as well as decent African and Latin American players, capturing a player of the quality of 26-year-old marksman Hulk shows a new level of ambition.
Once the poor relation of the big Moscow sides, Zenit’s fortunes have been transformed by funding from state gas giant Gazprom. Signing players like Hulk show it will no longer be content only with success in the Russian league. Adding the two new stars to a squad that already includes Portuguese internationals Bruno Alves and Danny as well as Italian Domenico Criscito, Zenit will be looking to make a major impact in the Champions League.
The club should be helped by a relatively weak group with Anderlecht, Malaga and AC Milan. While Zenit were the 2008 Uefa Cup winners, no Russian or Soviet side has ever won the Champions’ League or its predecessor the European Cup.