Zenit St. Petersburg midfielder Igor Denisov has lashed out at the extravagant salaries of new signings Hulk and Axel Witsel after a spat with the management over the issue saw him dropped to the reserves.
The club claimed Denisov, who captains the national side, was dropped from Saturday's 2-2 league draw against Krylya Sovetov for issuing a pay rise ultimatum.
On Monday, Denisov reportedly questioned whether the new acquisitions, who were bought for €40 million each in the summer, deserved to earn triple the salaries of some other players at Zenit.
“We’ve definitely bought good players who will certainly help Zenit. But are they really that much stronger than the current players that they get three times as much?” Denisov asked Russian daily Sport-Express.
Hulk and Witsel were not in the top bracket of world elite to command such wage, Denisov said.
“I’d understand it if [Lionel] Messi or [Andres] Iniesta came to us, they probably deserve any sum."
Denisov identified a €12 million release clause in his contract that he called his "fallback option" if the dispute remains unresolved, the paper said.
He maintained, however, that money wasn't the key factor in the spat.
“It’s especially unpleasant that money is first everywhere [in reports], although it doesn’t play any leading role whatsoever in this.”
“More important is something completely different - building the team in the right way.”
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.
A Zenit spokesman told R-Sport on Sunday that Kerzhakov had been punished for unspecified “inappropriate behavior.”
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.