And we all thought Chelsea spent big this summer! Just two days before the close of the Russian transfer window, Zenit St Petersburg have stunned sport news outlets by splashing out £64m on just two players. The Russian club swooped in to sign Hulk for a staggering £32m from Porto, while Benfica midfielder, Axel Witsel, also moves east for a similar fee.
Despite UEFA’s defiance that their Financial Fair Play rules will come into force, it appears clubs across the continent are still determined to part with their cash for big-name players. These signings will no doubt send shockwaves around Europe, as Zenit prime themselves for an attack on the Champions League this season, yet their ability to spend such vast sums of money on respectable players is still quite astounding.
Of course, to win the Champions League a team needs to be littered with superstars. Chelsea had Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard, Ramires, and Branislav Ivanovic to thank for last season’s triumph, while Real Madrid’s galacticos famously lifted the trophy in 2003, after Zinedine Zidane’s bewildering volley. Yet both clubs attracted their stars not only with the prize of a Champions League medal on offer, but also the carrot of playing in the best leagues on the planet. Russian football may be improving but their domestic Premier League is still decades away from matching its European rivals.
The motive of Hulk’s transfer to Zenit therefore comes under considerable scrutiny. The striker rarely sings from the same song sheet and, while most successful Brazilians move from South America to Western Europe directly, Hulk reached Portugal via a stint in Japan’s J-League. At 26, he is only just staking a claim for a starting place in the national side and it has taken a long time for him to leave Porto, since joining the club in 2008.
Chelsea fans can therefore be somewhat relieved manager Roberto Di Matteo pulled out from signing the attacker. The Blues hardly need another front man after spending a lot of money on new signings themselves this pre-season and spending +£30m on Hulk would only have been a vanity purchase. Di Matteo and Chelsea have dodged a costly bullet here, as Hulk’s true intentions clearly lie not in the progression of his footballing talents but in the evolution of his bank balance. Zenit are currently a respectable 50/1 to win the Champions League (roughly equal to Porto and Borussia Dortmund) according to the online odds betting, although obviously their chances aren’t anything like that of Chelsea or other top European sides. A five-year contract at super-rich Zenit will certainly add to the weight of his wallet, yet it could seriously harm Hulk’s reputation as a footballer if he cannot help the Russian side win big within the next few seasons.