Moscow: Anzhi Makhachkala's star players were facing a search for new clubs Wednesday after billionaire owner Suleiman Kerimov decided to drastically cut the side's budget and scale down its ambitions.
Stars including Cameroon captain Samuel Eto'o, Brazil's Willian and Russian international Yury Zhirkov could all be looking for new clubs after oligarch Kerimov ordered a drastic change in strategy.
Kerimov took over the club at the heart of the restive Russian republic of Dagestan in January 2011 and ploughed huge funds into a bid to turn the side into serious contenders for European honours.
"The leadership of Anzhi has taken a decision to work out a new long term strategy for development of the club," Anzhi said in a statement, adding that the "budgetary parameters" would be changed.
"We need to admit that the steps taken to achieve the maximum sporting results in the shortest time by buying expensive players did not lead to success," it added.
Anzhi has yet to comment on changes in players or management but Russian media said that among the first changes would be the appointment of former boss Gadzhi Gadzhiev as new manager.
This would bring to an end the brief reign of Dutch manager Rene Meulensteen, a former assistant to Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, who took over from countryman predecessor Guus Hiddink just two weeks ago.
Kerimov has yet to comment on the move, which has stunned the Russian football world, but club president Konstantin Remchukov confirmed that Anzhi would be undergoing a "serious shake-up" with a substantially reduced budget of up to $70 million (52 million euros).
Izvestia daily said Zhirkov and Russian international captain Igor Denisov, who only arrived at Anzhi this season from Zenit St Petersburg, have already agreed contracts to join Dinamo Moscow.
Kerimov experienced stress-related health problems after watching Anzhi's humbling 1-0 home defeat to Rostov on Friday and decided to make a drastic change, the Sport Express daily said.
The paper said that Kerimov held a meeting with Anzhi's players after the Rostov game and promised them the club would meet its financial obligations and help them find new clubs.
Russian media also said that Kerimov suffered huge financial losses of up to $500 million from last week's plunge in the share price of the Uralkali Russian potash producer in which he is a main shareholder.
The sudden about-turn by the owner of the pre-season title favourites also deals a blow to the image of Russian football as it prepares to host the 2018 World Cup.
"If it is not possible to keep the footballers within the limits of the reduced budget then they are going to have to go," wrote Yevgeny Lovchev, the football editor of the Sovyetsky Sport daily.
According to Remchukov, Kerimov will not be selling the club and Anzhi will instead be investing in long-term grass roots development.
Remchukov confirmed on his Twitter account that "many of our expensive stars will leave Anzhi, while the club's budget will be decreased to $50-$70 million a year."
According to Lovchev, a budget of 50 million euros could still keep the club in the Russian Premier League, as long as Anzhi no longer employ the likes of Eto'o, who had reportedly started on a 20 million euro salary.
Hiddink took over as manager in February 2012 and took the club to third place in the 2012/2013 season. In June he extended his contract with the club for another year and many commentators expected Anzhi to challenge for top honours.
But in mysterious circumstances last month, the 66-year-old former Russia manager suddenly stepped down leaving Meulensteen at the helm.
But the new Dutch boss failed to inspire instant success at Anzhi and the club are without a win this season, sitting 13th in the table with just two points from four matches.
The ambition of turning Anzhi into world beaters was a fairytale for Dagestan, which is best known to the outside world for the daily attacks carried out by Islamist radicals.
Anzhi play home matches in the Dagestan capital of Makhachkala but train in Moscow for security reasons.