When Ronaldinho Gaucho signed for Flamengo back in January 2011, the club laid on a big party for him at the Estadio da Gavea. Making a surprise appearance alongside the former Barcelona star was his friend Vagner Love, triggering rumours that the then CSKA Moscow striker was negotiating a return to the club where he briefly starred in 2010.
Denying he was making any such move, Love claimed he was just another member of the crowd of nearly 20,000 that had come to give the free-wheeling playmaker the warmest of welcomes.
One year later, however, following lengthy transfer negotiations between Fla and Love’s Russian employers, the bead-wearing front man was pulling on the Rubro-negro shirt himself. And it was not long before he elevated himself from being a mere associate of Ronaldinho’s to the team’s on-field leader.
While his more-feted colleague struggles to meet the expectations of the demanding Fla faithful, the unmistakable Love has had them eating out of his hand thanks to a string of fine performances. A Flamengo supporter himself, he could not be happier to be back at the club for a second time, as he explains in an exclusive chat with FIFA.com.
“I’m a huge Flamengo fan and always have been,” he declared, making his affections clear. “You just can’t describe how it feels to play for the club closest to your heart, and that’s something the fans can sense.
“It might seem like a cliché, but when I wake up every day I give thanks for the opportunity I’ve been given here,” he added. “I’m looking on it as a second chance. The last time I was here I gave everything I had, and the only thing that was lacking was some silverware. That’s what I’m after now. I want to win a title for my team and shout “champions” for Flamengo.”
This is not the first time that the durable Love has upstaged a team-mate with a big reputation at the Gavea. In his first spell with Fla, he stole the show from Adriano by ending the Rio de Janeiro state championship season as top scorer with 15 goals. Back in among the goals in his second coming, Love now has 33 to his name in 42 appearances in the famous black-and-red jersey.
Despite those stats and the adulation he has earned as a result, the disarmingly modest goal machine is keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “I’m just another member of the team," he said modestly. "Everyone’s saying I’m the main man now, but I’m just trying to do my job, do what I enjoy most and in the best way I can, straight from the heart.
“I’m happy to take responsibility,” he continued. “I always knew there’d be plenty of responsibility here, that there would be a lot of expectation and that I’d have to respond to it out on the pitch. I’ve done that and everything else has fallen into place. When I came here the burden was all on Ronaldinho, and we all know that he can’t do it on his own. I’m happy to share the load and I think he is too.”
Thanks to their strong friendship, there is no question of any clash of egos between Ronaldinho and Love, which is just as well at a club known for the occasional bout of turbulence behind the scenes.
“We’re always together,” confirmed Love. “He [Ronaldinho] comes over to my house and I go over to his and our families spend a lot of time together. We understand each other and that helps because we’re always chatting about where we can improve. It always makes things easier when you’re friends.”
You could be forgiven for thinking that the striker in the No. 99 shirt, who hails from Rio and values the little pleasures that the city has to offer, is relieved to be back home after spending the best part of the last seven and a half years in the Russian capital. Nevertheless, Love has nothing but good memories of his time with CSKA, winning no fewer than 11 trophies with the Muscovites, including the 2005 UEFA Europa League, two Russian league titles and four Russian cups.
“I was treated really well over there and it was a wonderful time in my life,” he explained. “Aside from the cold and the language, I can’t moan about anything. The only reason the transfer deal was difficult was because the club president treated me like a son. He’d tell everyone that he was my father in Russia. But when the offer from Flamengo came in, I said I my mind was already over there, and he understood.”
Delighted to be back in his hometown and intent on seeing out his career in Brazil, with his beloved Fla if at all possible, Love is now setting his heart on a return to A Seleção and forcing his way into Mano Menezes’ plans for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
“I’m still dreaming about that and I’m going to do everything I can to get back in the Brazil side,” he concluded, mapping out his future. “I want to be at the World Cup. It’s what every player dreams about. I’m in the right place at the right time, and there’s no doubt that coaches are taking a much closer look these days at players based in Brazil. I hope I get my chance.”