"You have five days to give us an answer, we have other no less worthy candidates in our sights" was the wording of an ultimatum sent by CSKA Moscow president Evgeny Giner to the latest starlet of world soccer, Valeri Bojinov. The 18-year-old Bulgarian Lecce striker turned down CSKA's $12 million offer, and on the final day of the European transfer window earlier this week inked a $17 million deal with Fiorentina. While CSKA may have lost out on Bojinov, its self-confidence hints at a sporting and economic empire in the making.
CSKA arrived in Israel on Sunday for a 12-day training camp ahead of its UEFA Cup round of 32 tie with Benfica Lisbon later this month. The Russians face Israel today at Ramat Gan (3 P.M., free entrance) in the first of four exhibition games.
With a budget of over $50 million, CSKA is the third-richest club in Russia, and the man believed to be behind the club, even though he has no official role, is none other than Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.
CSKA signed a sponsorship deal with Russian gas giant Sibneft a year ago worth $54 million over three years. The Russian press claims that Sibneft, which is also unofficially associated with Abramovich, was already bankrolling CSKA even though no contract existed between them.
Abramovich can't be seen to be standing at the head of CSKA because he already owns Chelsea, and under UEFA rules the same owner is not allowed to own two Champions League teams.
The connection between Abramovich and CSKA is plain to see, however. The offer for Bojinov came from Chelsea, which said that it planned to loan the Bulgarian to CSKA.
Czech midfielder Jiri Jarosik, who was brought from Sparta Prague for $3.7 million two years ago, moved to Chelsea earlier this month for $10 million. Giner hinted to the Russian press that CSKA would receive a senior player from Chelsea as compensation. Chelsea and CSKA were drawn in the same Champions League group this season, and UEFA launched an inquiry suspecting conflict of interest.
"Had UEFA found that Abramovich also owned CSKA, one of the two teams would have had to withdraw from the competition, but they didn't have a chance of finding anything on him," says a Russian journalist.
Chelsea beat CSKA home and away, and won the group. The Russians finished third to claim a place in the UEFA Cup.
One of CSKA's biggest signing was Brazilian striker Vagner Love, who joined them from Palmeiras for $8.5 million. Love, who earns some $100,000 a month with the Russians, threatened not to return to Moscow after the winter break because he was fed up with the cold, but Giner issued an ultimatum to the striker to return to training or face legal action for violation of his contract.
Love had wanted to join Corinthians, but Giner also threatened Media Sports Investment, the London-based group of investors that in November signed a $35 million 10-year partnership with the Sao Paulo-based club, and Love will arrive in Israel tomorrow.
Israeli soccer fans will be hoping that CSKA fails in its double header with Benfica, because even a draw in one of the matches will take Russia above Israel in the European rankings and leave it with only one representative in the 2006/7 Champions League.
Coach Valeri Gazzayev won't be repaying Israel for its hospitality however. "We plan to go at least another round after Benfica," he said recently.
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