3rd April 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
During his eight seasons in Russia, spanning two separate spells, Vagner Love cemented himself as quite possibly CSKA Moscow's greatest ever player. Bagging an astonishing 117 goals in 241 official matches for the Moscovites speaks volumes of the predatory Brazilian's masterful striking instincts.
Most impressively, the highly recognisable figure, not just for his dynamism upfront but also courtesy of his dyed blue and green dreadlocks, even helped the club win their first ever UEFA competition by beating Sporting in the 2005 edition of the UEFA Cup. While this was undoubtedly his biggest achievement of the 14 trophies he secured with CSKA, his three league titles and six Russian Cup wins add further gloss to what was an utterly successfully career for him in the Russian capital.
Having also spent time with the likes of Palmeiras, Flamengo and Corinthians, plus Chinese Super League outfit Shandong Luneng prior to signing for Ligue 1 giants Monaco, Love's career has certainly taken him on quite the journey.
The now 31-year-old, who'd just come off a season where his 14 league goals were instrumental in Corinthians being crowned 2015 league champions, saw the move as a great opportunity, saying: "I'm very happy and very proud to be joining this great club, Monaco. Hopefully, I can bring all my experience to the team, to achieve the targets set by the management," he said.
Monaco were equally excited about the two-time Copa America winner choosing them as his next destination, with club vice president, Vadim Vasilyev, voicing his hope that he'd be just the remedy to cure Leonardo Jardim's side's goalscoring woes. After all, prior to Love joining, Monaco had only managed to muster up a measly 27 goals in 20 league matches.
"Vagner Love is a striker who has shown all his value in his European career and more recently with Corinthians," said Vasilyev.
"We have had problems scoring goals since the start of the season, and we are convinced Vagner Love can provide us with all his quality in that department.
"He was very motivated to join us, which bodes well for Monaco meeting its target for the second half of the season."
Unsurprisingly and understandably it took him a while to get going as he adapted to life in unfamiliar surroundings, which saw him not score his debut goal for the Monagasque side until his fifth appearance. But with the help of the large Brazilian contingent at the club that includes the likes of Fabinho, Wallace and Jemerson he's now settling in nicely and it's showing in his ever improving on-field performances.
"Obviously, it's easier for me when you arrive in a team and there are already Brazilians to welcome you. They are there to help you to speed up your integration," he told Foot-Express.com.
This is well evidenced by the fact that since opening his account, he's bagged three goals in his last two outings, bringing his tally to four in his last five, including a wonderfully well taken goal and an all-round excellent display against the mighty PSG in Monaco's recent stirring 2-0 win.
The unlikely victory consigned the Parisiens to only their second league defeat of the season, and Love led the line superbly within Jardim's well structured 3-4-3 formation. Playing alongside the wildly gifted 20-year-old Thomas Lemar and 17-year-old starlet Kylian Mbappe Lottin, Love's experience, technical qualities and intelligence were instrumental throughout.
Being marked by one of the world's finest central defenders in Thiago Silva, the burly yet mobile striker held his own remarkably well, in a match where he won an admirable two aerial duels against his physically imposing countryman. Moreover, in situations where Love would drop deep and knit together Monaco's midfield and attack, he exhibited great strength to hold off Silva's heavy pressure and execute his passes with precision.
Whenever dribbling at Silva in 1v1 situations, the 31-year-old caused Silva further headaches by using his tidy repetoire of tricks, sharp changes of direction and wicked acceleration which saw him complete a mesmerising six successful dribbles.
Arguably the moment that best typified Love's ascendancy on the night, however, came in the lead up to his 65th minute goal. Here, with the Red and Whites attacking down the left, Love, noticing Silva was ball watching, elusively ghosted away from his marker and into the box. Observing Mpabbe had too made a forward surge that had occupied David Luiz's attention, Love smartly motored in behind Luiz to competently finish Lemar's delightful cross all alone. All it took was a moment's lapse from Silva and Vagner Love's clever offensive movement made him pay emphatically, and crucially gave Monaco a vital 1-0 lead.
With Monaco going on to record a famous victory against France's outstanding team, who hadn't lost at home since May 7, 2014, Love's brilliant movement and use of space, combined with all of his other incisive work throughout ensured PSG's all Brazilian back four consisting of Marquinhos, Maxwell, Luiz and Silva endured a hugely challenging evening at the Parc des Princes.
Crucially, the win consolidated Les Monagasques grasp on second position on the table, which secures automatic passage to the Champions League group stage, with the club maintaining their five point buffer over third place Nice.
Even though it took some time for the well travelled Brazilian to find his feet, the next chapter in his fascinating football journey is looking like it's going to be a very fruitful one indeed.
"I am very happy. I've adapted very well. Monaco is a very quiet, beautiful city. I hope to be here a long time. I signed here for a year and a half and I want to honor that contract. And if I can stay a little longer, I would be happy," he recently said.
Could Vagner Love follow in the footsteps of some of Monaco's recent striking stars such as Radamel Falcao, Dimitar Berbatov and Anthony Martial to become the Stade Louis II's next cult hero?
On the surface, at least, it would certainly appear so.
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Vagner Love ~ The Making of a Cult Hero at AS Monaco
3rd April 2016. By Edward Stratmann.