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Doumbia and Vagner Love - the odd couple

Doumbia and Vagner Love - the odd couple

James Appell on 3 November 2011

In Vagner Love and Seydou Doumbia, CSKA Moscow have what some would currently call the best strike partnership in Europe...

World-class strikers are, self-evidently, in pretty short supply. CSKA Moscow are in the fortunate position of having not just one, but two of them. In Vagner Love and Seydou Doumbia, CSKA have what some - and I include myself in this category - would currently call the best strike partnership in Europe.

Vagner Love, 27, is the first foreign player to score over 100 goals for a Russian club. Since joining CSKA in 2004 he has hit the net 116 times in 238 games. Meanwhile 23-year-old Doumbia broke a 12-year-old record at the weekend when, after notching his 22nd goal of the season (in just 27 matches, by the way), he set a new benchmark for the most goals scored in a Russian Premier League season. The Ivorian now has 42 goals in just 53 games for CSKA, and is vying to become the fastest man to 50 goals in Russian history. It’s hard to name two current team-mates with more of a goalscoring pedigree.

Interestingly, though goals are a clear common denominator between them, in most other respects Vagner Love and Doumbia are like chalk and cheese. Scratch beneath the surface and you find a strike partnership of immense contrasts. They’re a couple about as odd as Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau.

Of the two, Vagner Love is the more mercurial talent. Where Doumbia favours simplicity - the well-timed run, the outmuscling of his marker, the powerful shot - the Brazilian attempts to inject flair. A delightful encapsulation of this came in CSKA’s 3-0 Champions League win over Trabzonspor a fortnight ago, when Vagner Love’s impudent backheel set Doumbia away to finish unceremoniously for the opening goal.

But the price of that inventiveness is a temperament which can sometimes be destructive. During CSKA’s routine 4-0 win over Spartak Nalchik at the weekend, Vagner Love did a number on opposing defender Miodrag Dzudovic - the victim of Wayne Rooney’s stray boot while in the colours of Montenegro last month - which was worthy of Vinny Jones. The striker was shown a straight red card, and Dzudovic’s knee ligaments may not recover in time for Montenegro’s Euro 2012 play-off against the Czech Republic next week, a fact for which CSKA have sincerely apologised. Indeed, Vagner Love has nine yellow cards to go with that red this season, a disciplinary record which suggests a man with a temper.

Until Wednesday night’s Champions League tie against Trabzonspor, Doumbia had been a paragon of virtue, booked a mere five times in the last two seasons owing largely to his no-nonsense (though unmalicious) physicality. Then in Turkey he was sent off, seemingly provoked by his fellow Ivorian into a series of niggly fouls which resulted in two bookings. Even with that in mind, Doumbia is yet to run into any real controversy on the field.

Off the field the pattern continues. Vagner Love has spent much of his seven years in Moscow attempting to live up to the reputation many Latin American players have for enjoying the good life. He was publicly reprimanded in 2008 after videos of a sexual liaison with the unimaginatively-named Brazilian pornstar Pamela Butt went viral on the internet. Then last February he was filmed on a night out in Rochina, one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest slum districts, hanging out with known drug dealers who were toting rifles and anti-tank missiles. “I always go to these parties, I see no problem with it,” was Vagner Love’s response.

Again, predictably, Doumbia has that handy knack of keeping his nose clean. The worst of the Ivorian’s night-time outings dates back to his spell at previous club Young Boys, when he was hospitalised with food poisoning after a visit to a kebab house. Other than that, Doumbia’s leisure activities don’t tend to attract headlines.

And the difference extends further, to their respective attitudes to work. Vagner Love has become notorious in Russia for his dislike of the country’s winter weather (the cast-iron rule of playing fantasy football in Russia is to never pick Vagner Love before May). He rarely returns to pre-season on time, and has found some creative ways to engineer longer holidays for himself. In CSKA’s penultimate game of last season, for example, Vagner Love scored in the 93rd minute of play, removed his shirt, received a booking and earned a suspension for the final game of the season. CSKA allowed him to go back to Brazil early, with mutterings that the player had planned the whole thing on purpose.

Now take Doumbia’s approach to the Russian winter: “There was, is, and will always be winter - that’s a rule of nature. Last year I learned what a Russian winter entails, and I survived it. So I think everything will be okay.” Never has the Ivorian been seen to complain about anything at all - never mind the weather - since arriving in Moscow. He has never been anything less than professional.

Those wishing to be hypercritical might say Doumbia is a teacher’s pet, while Vagner Love is the kind of character with whom fans identify.

But in an age when footballers are expected to behave like tigers on the field and saints off it, most football managers would prefer the reliable Doumbia to the temperamental Vagner Love. All things being equal, would you want the cool character or the class clown at your football club?

The rumour mill is already grinding into action, with clubs lining up amid suggestions that both will leave CSKA by next summer at the latest. If so, you can bet of the two it will be Doumbia making a splash in one of Europe’s big leagues.


James Appell is a respected member of ITV.com's football writing team and has a penchant for all things Eastern European.

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