The demoted leader of Russian champions Zenit Saint Petersburg on Monday branded Brazilian striker Hulk a second-rate star who did not merit a contract whose size has sparked an open revolt on the team.
"I would understand if we got (Argentine superstar Lionel) Messi or (Spanish midfielder Andres) Iniesta -- they probably deserve any price," said Russian captain and Zenit midfielder Igor Denisov.
"Yes, we bought some nice players who will clearly help Zenit. But are they really so much better than the current team leaders that they deserve to get three times more," the 28-year-old Russian demanded.
"Zenit have assembled great players who have won at least as many titles as the new guys."
Denisov and leading league scorer Alexander Kerzhakov were both demoted to the youth squad on Sunday after voicing displeasure at the 100-million-euro ($129million) transfer from the Portuguese league of Hulk and Belgian midfielder Axel Witsel.
Hulk was reportedly signed to a 6.5-million-euros annual contract while Witsel was awarded just under half that amount.
The two players were purchased together by Zenit's wealthy team sponsor Gazprom in early September after a disappointing start to the season that has seen the blue-and-white squander their lead at the top and drop to fourth.
The new signings present direct competition for both Denisov and Kerzhakov.
But their case has reportedly also been picked up by other Russian players on the team -- including ones as influential as starting goalkeeper Vyacheslav Malafeyev and the veteran Vladimir Bystrov.
The club issued a statement late Sunday calling Denisov's behavior "unprofessional" and noting that he still had three more years left on a contract that made him one of the highest-paid players in Russia.
"He is discrediting himself as a player for club and country while doing serious damage to his own reputation," Zenit said in a blistering statement.