Unravelling the enigma of football in the post-Soviet republics
And so, it seems, Russia’s great Love affair is finally over.Every CSKA Moscow fan knew this day was coming; the amicable divorce has been stretched out for some time, but after seven *ahem* eventful years in Russia, Vágner Love is at long last heading home to Brazil after Flamengo completed a €10 million deal with the Army Men for their mercurial striker earlier this week. It is the end of an era.
The 27-year-old will be remembered as arguably one of the greatest forwards in the history of the Russian league. And things were rarely dull with him around, either.
With those trademark multicoloured dreadlocks, Vágner Love was an iconic figure at CSKA, scoring 117 times during 244 appearances for the Muscovites since arriving from Palmeiras in 2004.
He departs having won two Premier League titles, five Russian Cups and the UEFA Cup, after netting the winner against Sporting Lisbon in the 2005 final.
"In the opinion of most fans and experts, he is the best foreign player not only at CSKA, but in all Russian football," a statement read on the club’s official website yesterday.
"The team, the club and the many thousands in the army of CSKA fans thank Vágner for all that he has done for CSKA! We wish him good luck in everything and great new victories!"
No other overseas player has scored more in the Premier League than Vágner Love and he has certainly played his part in football’s development in Russia. He was also the first foreigner to join the “Grigory Fedotov Club”, the name given to an elite group who have netted a century of goals (Grigory Fedotov, the first to have achieved such a feat, was a former CSKA player who scored 149 times for the club).
A popular character, Vágner Love was unpredictable both on and off the pitch. He is a flamboyant figure, a maverick - someone the fans loved.
It is rumoured Vágner Love’s name derives from his time as a Palmeiras player when he was caught with a girl in his room ahead of an important game.
“It isn't a secret that I like women, and that I take care of how I look, but that doesn't mean I can't focus on my football as well,” he said at the time.
Vágner Love certainly knew how to enjoy himself; perhaps a little too much.
His former team-mate Jô tried his hand in England with Manchester City and before too long Vágner Love’s strike partner Seydou Doumbia will no doubt also be playing in one of Europe’s top leagues, so there is a sense of unfulfilled promise to some extent, despite all that he has achieved in Russia.
The reported €10 million fee Flamengo paid is indicative of his immense talent.
In 2008 – arguably Vágner Love’s best season at CSKA – he finished top of the scoring charts with 20 goals and became only the second foreigner to win the league’s Player of the Year award.
His generously moustached manager Valery Gazzaev called him "one of the best strikers in Europe" at the time.Then things started to unravel. A video of Vágner Love with the unimaginatively named Brazilian porn star Pamela Butt had previously been leaked online that year. She was enraged.
"It's appalling," Butt told the Folha de São Paulo. "I'm very well paid to have sex on camera, but I earned nothing for this. I am two people: Pamela the actress and Pamela the private lady, and today the private lady is defiled."
Vágner Love simply shrugged it off.
"Hey, I'm known for being amorous. Let's be honest: this reputation isn't one that unsettles me."
Yet his career had already begun to stagnate in the Russian capital and in 2009 he returned home to Brazil, joining former side Palmeiras and then Flamengo on loan, citing “family problems”. Several European clubs were interested in him around that time.
Many doubted whether Vágner Love would even return to see out the new two-and-a-half year contract he signed before departing. But he did, and with some success
Vágner Love looked like he was getting back to his best with nine goals in the second half of 2010. There is no doubting that on his day – and mood permitting – Vágner Love is unplayable.
He had also formed a fruitful partnership with Doumbia as well, the league’s top marksman, but only managed to find the back of the net nine times himself domestically in 2011.
It was no secret Vágner Love had been hankering after a move back to Brazil and although fans will certainly miss him, they will concede his time in the Premier League was up.
“I’ll take extremely warm memories with me from Russia,” he said on Wednesday.
“In these seven years, I have felt love and support from the club and from the fans. I fell in love with CSKA with all my heart and felt an affinity with it.
“They were great years – we won a heap of titles! But, even more, I value how people connected with me here. At CSKA they made a man out of me, for which I am above all thankful to the club president Evgeny Giner.”
His good relationship with Giner is perhaps one of the reasons why Vágner Love stayed in Moscow for so long, even if he clearly didn’t take well to the Russian winter.
Although Vágner Love has been involved in more than his fair share of controversies, his goals have, to a certain degree, made him somewhat immune from criticism. He is, and will forever remain, an immensely popular figure among CSKA fans.
The Premier League is losing one of its most colourful characters in Vágner Love, but also one of its best strikers.
До свидания, Лав, до свидания...
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