The $100 million Russian champion Zenit St. Petersburg spent on Brazil striker Hulk and Belgium midfielder Axel
Witsel just before the transfer deadline has touched off a crisis within the club and a debate within Russian soccer about excessive spending.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, a St. Petersburg native, even waded into the debate, backing the Zenit owner, Russian energy giant Gazprom.
"I also complain sometimes," he said. "I would like to note that it's the companies that buy the players and not the government. But fans also want to see world stars, not those who are on the wane but those who are at their peak."
Zenit recalled a pair of Russian internationals, captain Igor Denisov and Alexander Kerzhakov, after they had been demoted last weekend to the reserve team in a dispute over the large salaries given Hulk and Witsel.