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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Big-spending Anzhi Makhachkala could be forced to sell their top players after billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov showed his frustration with the Russian football club's lack of success by drastically cutting its financial lifeline.
Anzhi have spent lavishly since being bought by the Russian businessman in 2011 but his money has not bought success. They finished only third in the Russian championship last season and have just two points from their first four matches this season.
Club chairman Konstantin Remchukov suggested on Twitter that Anzhi planned a fire sale of players to trim costs and would bring back Gadzhi Gadzhiyev, the manager who left the club in September 2011.
That would spell the end of Rene Meulensteen's reign after just two matches in charge. The former first-team coach at Manchester United under Sir Alex Ferguson, he took over as manager from fellow Dutchman Guus Hiddink on July 22.
"The main news is that there will be a reorganisation at Anzhi. Many expensive players will go, and the budget will be around $50-70 million dollars a year," Remchukov tweeted.
Russian website sports.ru estimated Anzhi's budget in 2012 had been $180 million (£116 million).
Such a dramatic cut in spending appears to signal Kerimov's declining ambitions and interest at Anzhi. The club has made little impact at home or in European competitions, while fellow oligarch Roman Abramovich's Chelsea won the Champions League in 2012, in addition to numerous domestic tiles and cups.
Remchukov made clear results had been disappointing after the purchase of players such as Brazilian defender Roberto Carlos and Cameroon striker Samuel Eto'o, and the hiring of former Chelsea and PSV Eindhoven manager Hiddink.
In separate comments by Remchukov to Nezavisimaya Gazeta, which he owns, he said Kerimov was worried about the effect of bad results on his health and by the fate of his investment in the club from his native Dagestan region.
"The main reason for a change of course at Anzhi is the sharp deterioration in the health of Suleiman Kerimov because of worries about the club's lack of success," Remchukov said.
It was not clear whether the comment about Kerimov's health was intended as a joke, but his investment company later said the industrialist tycoon, 47, was well.
Last week was not an entirely successful one for Kerimov as the share price of one of his companies, potash producer Uralkali, sank after it quit a joint venture with a company in Belarus.
Anzhi issued a statement which appeared intended to calm speculation about the club's plans after Remchukov's remarks.
It said it had adopted a new long-term strategy to bring the budget into line with UEFA's fair play rules, intended by Europe's governing body to stop reckless spending on wages and transfers, and curb large cash injections from rich club owners.
The club statement made no reference to Meulensteen's future but played down talk of a wholesale sell-off of players.
"We are not talking about a mass sell-off of players or other steps the media are talking about. The club will honour all contractual obligations to players," it said.
But the statement failed to halt the frenzied media speculation about which players might be sold and about Gadzhiyev's expected return from fellow Russian club Krylya Sovetov.
Anzhi continued to spend heavily on new players before the start of Russia's new season last month, bringing in Russian midfielder and captain Igor Denisov from Zenit St Petersburg and striker Alexander Kokorin from Dynamo Moscow.
Brazilian playmaker Willian joined from Ukraine's Shakhtar Donetsk at the start of the year for 35 million euros ($47.94 million). But Anzhi lie 13th in the 16-team championship with two draws and two defeats from four matches.
Reporting By Timothy Heritage