THERE’s often a shortage of up-and-coming young strikers around Europe, so anyone who shows the ability to score 20-plus goals is always going to be a sought-after commodity. Big clubs want to bet their money on a sure thing, so the competition for notable names like Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappé will always be fierce once the bidding starts. Other forwards who have potential and have not necessarily been centre stage also command sizeable fees.
Dušan Vlahović of Fiorentina is one such player, a 21 year-old Serb who lacks nothing in technique, drive and confidence. His hero is Zlatan Ibrahimović and he has told friends and associates that he is a Serbian Zlatan who will only play for the strongest clubs. He’s currently at Fiorentina, a club with ambition but whose last scudetto was in 1969 (their second) and their last piece of silverware was the Coppa Italia, which was lifted in 2001. The Belgrade-born youngster started his professional career with Partizan, but he also played at youth level for both Red Star and OFK.
Pundits and fans have been singing his praises for the past year or so, and unsurprisingly, he’s about to sign for Juventus for a fee of € 75 million, despite interest from Premier League clubs like Arsenal, who were very keen on breaking the bank to secure him. Champions League football was a prerequisite, however, and Arsenal cannot guarantee their involvement, unlike Manchester City, who were also interested in him at an earlier stage.
It does sound as though Juventus was always going to be his next destination as some rumours imply he had already agreed terms with them before rejecting a new contract with the Viola. As talks continued between Vlahović’s people and Juve, there was a negative reaction from some Fiorentina’s fans. He has moved from hero to zero, so much so that the Italian police are keeping an eye on the situation.
Vlahović’s entourage includes his agent, Darko Ristic, who has upset one or two people around the Fiorentina camp due to media reports that he asked for a € 20 million bonus. There is also talk of an attorney connected to the deal being pictured with certain individuals from the Serbian underworld. Rocco B. Commisso, the club’s owner, has allegedly said the club will not deal with Ristic and his colleagues again.
Meanwhile, Vlahović has said he never pushed to leave Fiorentina, although he did turn down a new five-year contract that would pay him € 3.5 million per year and make him the highest earning player in the club’s history. According to the Italian press, he currently earns € 800,000 a year at Fiorentina and Juventus are willing to give him a € 7 million annual salary.
Initially, though, Fiorentina were eager not to sell their leading scorer, but there has been something of a poker game going on. Juventus came onto the scene and told them that it was a deal now or they would wait until 2023 and get the player for nothing. Furthermore, Ristic wasn’t listening to other offers, including an extension to his existing deal. This really forced Fiorentina’s hand and hence, Vlahović is bound for Turin.
How will he fare at a bigger club where expectation will be high? His goalscoring rate in Florence has been impressive, 44 in 98 Serie A games, and his strike rate for Serbia, seven goals in 14 appearances, also underlines his potential. It should be noted that 12 of his 44 league goals have been penalties. In the calendar year, his 33 goals were beaten only by Bayern Munich’s Robert Lewandowski. By the time Serbia take part in the 2022 World Cup, Vlahović’s personal development will have further evolved and he will have had 10 months at Juventus.
He is an imposing figure, firstly because, at 6 feet 3 inches, he stands head and shoulders above most players. Naturally, at that height he is effective in the air, but he also has the close control of a smaller individual and he is adept at holding-up the ball. Not only does he have an eye for goal, but he does create for others and he has a good turn of speed.
He has been called “the complete forward”, but in a bigger pond, will he have the same impact? Juventus already have Paulo Dybala, Álvaro Morata, Moise Kean and the young Brazilian Kaio Jorge. Interestingly, there are rumours concerning the futures of all four players when Vlahović arrives, with Tottenham interested in Dybala, Morata being chased by Barcelona, and 20 year-old Jorge going out on loan to another Italian club. Obviously, the expectation is the expensive new signing will be the first choice striker, so the spotlight will be firmly on one of Europe’s most exciting young talents in the coming months.