MOSCOW, September 25 (RIA Novosti)
President Vladimir Putin has defended expensive signings by Russian Premier League clubs, saying it is high time the competition attracted world stars at their peak.
His comments come in the wake of internal feuding at Zenit St. Petersburg who spent 80 million on Brazilian forward Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel in the summer transfer window.
One of the club's top players, Russia captain Igor Denisov, was dropped to the reserves after allegedly complaining the players' salaries were three times higher than the average wages at the club.
"Sport lovers want to see world stars, and not just those who are over the hill, but who are at the very peak, on the way up," Putin said. "Here there are certain pluses that affect millions of people, of sports lovers."
Putin acknowledged the sums paid to the players are high, but noted this was a private matter because the money does not come from the tax payer.
"I have a moan now and again," Putin said in reference to the huge sums forked over for foreign players. "Even today I had a dispute with company executives, but I want to make it clear that it's not the state but the companies that buy the players," Putin said.
Zenit are backed by government gas company Gazprom.
One of Putin's main drives during his time in power has been to raise the country's national prestige through sports, plowing more funding into Olympic sports and promoting the Russian Premier League and the KHL hockey league.
The Russian Premier League had for years been seen as one of Europe's fringe competitions, an alternative destination for players who didn't quite make it in the glamor leagues of Western Europe.
But in recent seasons, clubs fueled by oligarchs and state energy giants have begun to attract some global names including Roberto Carlos, Samuel Eto'o and Hulk.
Denisov was dropped from Saturday's 2-2 league draw against Krylya Sovetov for issuing a pay rise ultimatum after Hulk and Witsel were reported to have secured bigger salaries.
Denisov said he had confronted coach Luciano Spalletti about the issue Friday.
The midfielder said he had not urged other members of the squad to refuse to play, and did not know why striker Alexander Kerzhakov had also been forced to train with the reserves.
Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller suggested on Tuesday that situation surrounding Denisov and Kerzhakov would soon be resolved, saying "it will all be fine."
He did not elaborate.
Between them, Kerzhakov, 29, and Denisov, 28, have made almost 500 appearances for Zenit since both broke into the first team in 2001.
Kerzhakov has 66 Russia caps, while Denisov has 32 and was made captain by new national team coach Fabio Capello last month.
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