Name: Vagner Silva de Souza, nicknamed “Vagner Love”
Born: 11 June 1984 in Rio de Janeiro
Clubs: Until 2004: Palmeiras. Since 2004: CSKA Moscow.
Honours: UEFA Cup winner (2005). Copa America winner (2004 and 2007). Russian League champion (2005 and 2006). 11 caps for Brazil, 2 goals.
From Russia With Love
Brazilian striker Vagner Love has finally broken into the national team – even though he moved to Russia early in his career.
Until recently, moving to Russia could signal the death knell for a Brazilian player’s international career. Carlos Alberto Parreira, who coached Brazil from 2003 until after the 2006 FIFA World Cup™, made it abundantly clear that, to be even considered for selection, a player needed to play in one of the major European leagues such as Italy, Spain, England or Germany. Those who had moved to the new El Dorados such as Turkey, Russia, Japan or the Ukraine need not apply.
One of the players to lose out was Vagner Love. At the age of 19, Love had been instrumental in helping Palmeiras return to the first division at the first attempt and he had played for the Brazilian side that won the Copa America in Peru in 2004. Shortly afterwards, he moved to CSKA Moscow and his international career floundered.
As Parreira had warned, Vagner Love was overlooked when the 2006 FIFA World Cup™ squad was named even though he had played a key role in helping CSKA win the UEFA Cup the year before, scoring in the 3-1 final win over Sporting Lisbon.
“My international career stagnated because I went to Russia,” he said in an interview shortly afterwards. “Parreira decided not to watch players who were in Eastern Europe. I’m sure that if I had continued in Brazil or if I had gone to one of the big European leagues, I would have had a chance for a place at .the World Cup.”
In the end, Brazil only made the quarter¬finals in Germany before losing 1-0 to France. Parreira quit and his successor, Dunga, brought in under orders to rebuild and rejuvenate the side, decided to look east for a change.
Along with Elano (playing for Shakthar Donetsk at the time) and his club mate Daniel Carvalho, Vagner Love was one of the players to benefit. “I don’t regret joining CSKA but thank God Dunga looked over here,” he said.
Born in Rio de Janeiro, Vagner Love — as his nickname suggests — has long cultivated a reputation as a “Don Juan”. “Even in his infancy, Vagner showed that he had a way with women,” says his official website proudly. “When he was around 12 years old, the lambada was in fashion in Brazil. The boy was a great dancer and he practiced the steps with his sister so that he could dance with girls at parties. Vagner was the only boy who knew how to dance and so all the girls asked him to dance with them.”
But his womanising got him into trouble in 2002 when he was playing for Palmeiras in the Sao Paulo Juniors’ Cup. Vagner naughtily sneaked a girl into the team headquarters and was caught. His suspension lasted only a few days but his new nickname – Vagner Love – has stuck with him ever since.
“I regret doing it and I would never do it again,” he said. “My advice to players who are starting their careers is to never do anything like that because they run the risk of leaving a mark on their careers, something which very luckily did not happen to me. To start with, I didn’t like the nickname Love, but I got used to it.”
The incident failed to halt his career, however. Shortly afterwards, he was promoted to the Palmeiras first team and he scored 19 goals to help them out of the second division, to which they had been relegated the season before for the first time in their history.
DEBUT AGAINST COSTA RICA
Vagner continued to hit the target in the first half of 2004 and he was rewarded with a trip to the Copa America, where he made his international debut in a 4-1 win over Costa Rica.
Then he left for Russia. Few Brazilians had made the move at the time and the combination of the snow, the language and the lack of Brazilian beans and rice was expected to make it difficult for him. Vagner, however, quickly moved into goalscoring mode and said the club helped him to settle in. And as other Brazilian players joined, it was a case of whether Russia was ready for Vagner Love rather than vice-versa.
“I think we’ve changed the atmosphere in the team camp. Before, they were cold. The coach shouted at the players a lot. Now he talks, jokes around, tries to lighten the atmosphere. Training is lively,” he said.
He even found the courage to stand up to President Vladimir Putin, who criticised the number of foreigners playing for local clubs. “It’s up to the clubs to decide who they sign,” said Vagner. “If the teams here don’t give a chance to Russian players, it’s not his problem, nor is it mine.”
Vagner regularly hit the back of the net but he could not get back in the Brazil team. After his single appearance against Costa Rica, he had to wait more than two years before Dunga took over and gave him another chance.
He made his return when he came on as a substitute in a 3-0 friendly win over Argentina in 2006 and scored his first international goal three days later in a win over Wales.
After that, circumstances conspired to favour Vagner. Adriano and Ronaldo were out of favour while Lyons Fred, who would have been the number one choice for the striker’s role, was injured, handing Vagner an unexpected chance.
He was the first choice centre-forward as Brazil retained in the Copa America in Venezuela last year and, although the Brazilian media criticised him for only scoring one goal in the tournament, coach Dunga saw other virtues and repeatedly praised his unselfish play.
Nevertheless, wearing the number nine shirt, which previously belonged to Ronaldo, is a heavy burden for any Brazilian player. Incredibly, Vagner Love was jeered off the field at the Maracana against Ecuador in October, even though he had scored in a 5-0 victory.
Dunga leapt to his defence. “We have this fixation about the number nine,” Dunga said. “If we put a number 20 on the field and he started scoring lots of goals, it would cause mayhem. When I played for Brazil, Romario was the marksman but he wore number 11, so I suppose today he would be out of the team.”
Vagner did not seem unduly bothered by the reaction, however. Immediately after die game, Vagner led the celebrations with Ronaldinho as a group of Brazilian players hired an entire nightclub, only emerging at around 10 o’clock the following morning.