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Can Zenit St Petersburg Live Up to Heightened Expectations?

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What is the big attraction about Russia? That was what many clubs were left asking themselves in the summer, as hot Brazilian target Hulk settled on moving east to Russia from FC Porto, Portugal. Hulk had been the transfer target of Premier League side Chelsea and other top clubs around Europe, but the money (forty million Euro’s worth) was stumped up by Zenit St Petersburg to steal the talented forward away from everyone. So how did Zenit pull off this move and why did the 2011/12 Russian Premier League Champions get the deal done?

First of all, they are a team of winners, with Zenit taking the league title for the second consecutive season last term, their third title in five years. Of course, along with that kind of dominance comes the golden financial ticket that is Champions League soccer, which is crucial for topping up funds for clubs who can make it into UEFA’s elite club tournament. Following a take over of the club back in December of 2005 by Gazprom, the St Petersburg club have gone from strength to strength.

The influence of the highly respect coach Dick Advocaat had been immense at the club, taking over back in July of 2006. He led the club to the 2007 Premier League and further success was to follow in the coming years, as the rest of Europe sat up and started taking notice of the Russian club with deep pockets. With the foundations that had been laid by Advocaat, when he left his post and Italian Lucian Spalletti took over in December of 2009, Zenit were in a very strong standing.

It was in speaking with Spalletti that Hulk became attracted to to the Russian club. The Italian had sold the club very well to the Brazilian, who impressed about the structure of the club currently and the ambitions which it had for the future. It was laid out to Hulk that Zenit are building a great side and the former Porto player wanted a part of it, rejecting a big money move to reigning European Champions Chelsea. It was a bold move by one of the most in-demand players on the continent.

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Just as much as Hulk is putting his faith in the Zenit system, Zenit is putting their faith in the Brazilian. It is with the Champions League in mind that the Russians continue to throw money at the project of building. In last season’s UEFA competition, the St Petersburg side qualified for the first time from the group stage. They were to lose in the first knock-out stage though to Portuguese side Benfica, but the taste of success has driven them to do more.

They won’t be content with just another Russian league title this term, the Champions League is the biggest fish to fry in the European pond. However, this season’s challenge has gotten off to a tough start for the big spending Russians. Heading into Match Day three, Zenit St Petersburg are sitting bottom of Group C following two defeats against Malaga CF and AC Milan. Their next foray is against Belgian side Anderlecht, where they must get three points on the board if they are going to chase down a qualification spot.

On the domestic front as well, Zenit St Petersburg have been struggling to get wins on the board recently Early season form saw them race out of the blocks with four straight victories, but wins have been hard to come by since then and they find themselves trailing the likes of CSKA Moscow and the new rich club on the block, Anzhi Machakala. With all the money invested, it looks as if for the first time in a while, Zenit are not going to have things all their own way. In four league appearances, Hulk has managed just one goal and the weight of expectation on him devliering is increasing.

With recent fall out from prolific midfielder Igor Denisov refusing to play for the club, some controversy and scandal has started creeping into the club as well. The 28 year old had demanded that the club increase his wages or else he wouldn’t play for them again. Is the bright future that Hulk spoke of there?

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