Why Dusan Vlahovic Is The Most Wanted Striker In World Football
Sky Sports in Germany have linked him with Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund. Atletico Madrid, Chelsea and Manchester City “have an eye” on him. Several reports – including this one from the Manchester Evening News – believe that Manchester United have sent their scouts to watch him play in recent months. La Gazzetta dello Sport insist Juventus are ready to make an offer in January, but believe they will face competition from Arsenal and Tottenham.
The man in question is Fiorentina striker Dusan Vlahovic. Why? Because, at the age of 21 and having just equalled the Serie A record for most goals in a calendar year, he might just be the most in-form striker in world football.
All of this might seem unbelievable for anyone who watched Vlahovic prior to the start of 2021. After netting just three goals in 27 appearances for Partizan Belgrade, he would join Fiorentina for a fee of just €1.95 million ($2.21m) back in January 2018, and spent the 2018/19 campaign splitting his time between the Tuscan club’s under-19 side and the first team.
With the youth team he shone, netting 11 goals in 13 league games and adding six in five appearances in the cup, yet struggled to make an impression in Serie A as he featured in just 10 matches. Those games saw Vlahovic manage a total of only 152 minutes of action in which he failed to score, and his first goals would not come until the Coppa Italia started in the following campaign.
A brace against second tier side Monza was followed by his first Serie A goals as he bagged two more in a 5-2 loss to Cagliari in November 2019. A special strike against Inter (see video above) offered a glimpse of his talent, but Vlahovic would net only three more in the rest of the season, and the next season began in much the same fashion.
Indeed, the first 10 games of 2020/21 saw him add just a single goal to his tally, meaning he had scored just nine times in 54 outings for Fiorentina. However, with the team struggling into November, the club made the decision to sack Beppe Iachini and appoint Cesare Prandelli as Coach.
Beloved in Florence thanks to a successful stint at the helm from 2005 to 2010, Prandelli has a long track record of getting the very best from his strikers. It was under his guidance that Mario Balotelli scored all but one of his 14 goals for the Italian national team, while Luca Toni smashed 47 goals in just 67 appearances for Fiorentina.
That trend is echoed through the performances of Alberto Gilardino at Parma and many others, and the Coach soon got to work on improving the fortunes of his latest front man.
“The turning point in my career was the arrival of Cesare Prandelli,” Vlahovic told Serbian outlet MozzartSport earlier this year. “I was in the national team at that time and my friends sent me his statements saying that he had spoken very highly of me, but I didn’t pay much attention.
“Then I got back, we immediately sat down, talked and he explained what he wanted and what he planned to do with me,” the striker continued. “He told me not to worry, to be calm and that he would give me a chance. After five games, I finally scored and that goal has been the toughest of my career so far.”
The goal in question was against Sassuolo, and in truth Vlahovic never looked back, scoring 20 times in the last 24 league games of the season. With only Cristiano Ronaldo (29), Romelu Lukaku (24) and Luis Muriel (22) scoring more than his tally of 21, the Fiorentina man was named Serie A’s Best Young Player, and there was no doubt who he believed deserved credit.
“Without Prandelli’s help, none of this would have happened,” Vlahovic continued in that aforementioned interview. “He gave me unlimited trust and I will be grateful to him for the rest of my life. He explained some movements to me, how I had to shoot on goal: Prandelli knows how to approach and talk to players.”
Yet even as he helped transform Vlahovic into a deadly goal scorer, the Coach failed to improve the fortunes of the team and by March he had decided to leave. Iachini returned for a brief spell, before Fiorentina handed the reins to Vincenzo Italiano this past summer.
His work has already been discussed in this previous column, but Vlahovic has simply continued where he left off, scoring 16 times in the first 19 matches of 2021/22. Closer analysis of his performances show the development of his game too, and there is now so much more to him than an ability to hit the back of the net on a regular basis.
Using every inch of his 1.90m (6ft 3”) frame, he holds the ball up remarkably well, allowing the Fiorentina midfielders to join him in attack. Vlahovic’s passing has taken a huge leap forward too, going from completing 66.3% of his attempts last term to 71.4% this season according to WhoScored.com.
Now a complete striker, he continues to wreck defences on a weekly basis, despite opponents focussing their efforts on stopping him. His dramatic improvement led to discussions with Fiorentina over a new contract, but those talks collapsed in a very public manner back in October.
With his current deal set to expire in June 2023, La Viola were understandably keen to tie down their star man, but when an agreement could not be reached, owner Rocco Commisso published a statement on the club’s official website.
He told fans that despite an offer that “would have made him the highest paid player in the history of the club,” Vlahovic had refused to sign an extension. That sparked speculation that the striker – who would be able to leave for free in 18 months time – would quickly be sold, putting Europe’s elite clubs on high alert.
Fiorentina have three transfer windows left to make a profit, and while it remains to be seen what his future holds, there is no doubt that they have developed a true star. Dusan Vlahovic is the hottest striker in world football.