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Dusan Vlahovic: The Under-The-Radar ‘Monstar’


Omogbolahan Apata

Dusan Vlahovic isn’t a name that comes up every time someone talks about the best strikers in the world or the best young players in the world. This could be due to the league or team he’s playing for. The young Serbian is really lighting the tanks for Fiorentina in Serie A; he made his imprint in the league last season, demonstrating the stuff he’s made of. The striker has everything it takes to be mentioned alongside Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, but it’s a little too soon. This article will reveal the beast who is already gaining the attention of Europe’s biggest teams such as Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal. The player has yet to sign an extension to his contract, which expires in the summer of 2023, indicating that he will not be at the Florence side for long.

WHO IS DUSAN VLAHOVIC?

After the brief above, it’s crucial to understand who Dusan Vlahovic really is, so let’s start with the basics and a little background.

Vlahovic, a 21-year-old Serb striker who was born in Belgrade, began playing football at the “Altina Zemun” football school, where he competed against older players. Later, he spent three months with OFK Beograd and one appearance for Red Star Belgrade before joining Partizan in the summer of 2014. At the age of 16 years and 24 days, he became the club’s youngest player when he made his debut against OFK Beograd on February 27, 2016.

When he scored in a 3-2 win over Radnik Surdulica on April 2, he became their youngest scorer, displacing Luka Jovic, who is currently at Real Madrid. There were rumors of a move to England at the time, but instead, a deal with Serie A club Fiorentina was completed, and the attacker, who was only 18 at the time, moved to Italy for the 2018-19 season.

Despite the fact that he was young, a lot was anticipated of him in his debut season, but he only played a few goalless senior games and only started one Serie A match. In 2019-20, he was a consistent presence, but his six goals in 30 appearances caused some to write him off as a youngster still learning the ropes. But it was during the 2020-21 season that he made his mark, aided by Cesare Prandelli’s belief in him, who returned to the club as manager in November 2020 but only lasted until March before quitting.

Vlahovic erupted into life in late December with an attention-grabbing scoring rampage that has yet to slow down after scoring one goal in his first ten league appearances.

He has scored 28 goals in 39 league matches since December 16, 2020. Since that tousle-haired behemoth of Serie A in the 1990s and early 2000s, Gabriel Batistuta, he is the youngest player to score more than 20 league goals for the Viola in a single season.

Only two players in Europe’s top five divisions have scored more than Vlahovic’s 25 goals in 2021: the prolific Bundesliga combo of Erling Braut Haaland and Robert Lewandowski.

Vlahovic is one of just three players under the age of 25 to have scored 20 goals in the calendar year to date, alongside Haaland and Kylian Mbappe, both of whom are highly coveted.

This season he has scored 10 goals and 1 assist in 13 appearances(All competitions), for Serbia he’s scored 4 goals in 8 appearances in the European World cup qualifiers.

The Fiorentina striker has continued to shine, although Prandelli’s exit from Fiorentina was clearly a setback. The striker commented about the former Italy manager’s influence on his budding career after a hat-trick against Benevento in March.

“I owe him everything,” he said. “The coach has given me space and confidence in a moment that was complicated for me. In the post lockdown, he arrived two hours early for training. He made me understand what it means to be a champion on and off the pitch. He’s gigantic everywhere.”

Dusan Vlahovic for Serbia

HOW GOOD IS THE LAD?

The Serb is a problem for any defender, towering 1.9m tall and stocky and has the size and physical capacity to cover the ball. Only three strikers have won more aerial duels than him this season. Only Morten Thorsby of Sampdoria was involved in more aerial duels last season than Vlahovic (267).

He is not lightning fast, but he is quick enough to cause issues. He is a willing runner with a nice touch, an astute positional sense, and an awareness of others. When comparing his goals from last and this season, one is impressed by his Lewandowski-esque ability to find a key yard on a marker or ghost into space virtually unnoticed in the box before a devastating finish.

“He moves a lot but he is a striker who shows a lot of presence in the penalty area,” Italian football writer Daniele Verri told BBC Sport. “He can push defenders out of the way, hold up the ball and he can pull two defenders along with him and still score.

“And he is very young. He has nowhere near yet touched his full potential.”

Perhaps his most striking attribute is one that is uncommon in a player his age and will serve him well if he joins a top club.

“He has been under pressure from fans, who have been booing him, and the club itself since it emerged that he would not extend his contract,” continued Verri. But he is still scoring goals. He is responding on the pitch.”

“That, to me, shows a mental strength you need to be a top professional player.”

However, the Serb still has a long way to go before achieving true elite status. While he has outperformed his expected goals total – the number of goals he should have based on the quality of his opportunities – since the start of last season, his shooting accuracy remains below that of many of the game’s finest line-leading strikers, at slightly under 38%.

To genuinely excel at a great club, he’ll need to enhance his technical and tactical understanding. Fortunately, he has lots of time on his hands and, on the surface, a plethora of appealing alternatives in front of him. In Vlahovic, Prandelli has left a huge asset.

FLORENCE, ITALY – MAY 08: (BILD ZEITUNG OUT) Dusan Vlahovic of ACF Fiorentina looks on during the Serie A match between ACF Fiorentina and SS Lazio at Stadio Artemio Franchi on May 8, 2021 in Florence, Italy. Sporting stadiums around Italy remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors. (Photo by Matteo Ciambelli/DeFodi Images via Getty Images)

HIS FUTURE?

His current contract runs through the conclusion of the 2022-23 season, but despite an offer that would have made him the club’s highest-paid player, Fiorentina owner Rocco Commisso stated in a statement in October that the striker would not be extending it. The most likely answer, given the threat of losing a great asset for nothing, will be a sale next summer or sooner. But to where?

He has been linked with Liverpool as a long-term replacement for Roberto Firmino, as well as being mentioned as a possible replacement for Kane at Tottenham this summer, although he may not be suited to the type of deep-moving false nine role that those two now play.

Antonio Conte, Spurs’ new Italian manager, saw Vlahovic play at Inter Milan last season and may see the Serb as the ideal number nine to provide more of a spearhead to his assault.

Manchester City have been without a recognized striker for much of this season after failing to acquire Kane in the summer, and Vlahovic and Haaland would almost certainly be in the mix if Pep Guardiola decides to switch tactics. Arsenal, Atletico Madrid, PSG, Real Madrid, and a slew of other teams are said to be keeping an eye on the issue.

Vlahovic joining Fiorentina’s strong Serie A rivals Juventus, which has been mentioned as a possibility in the upcoming January transfer window, is the worst-case scenario for Fiorentina. Juve has coveted a number of outstanding players away from the Viola over the years, including Roberto Baggio, Giorgio Chiellini, Federico Bernardeschi, and, most recently, Federico Chiesa, igniting hatred among the Fiore faithful.

“If the right offer arrives in January it is possible, but Fiorentina are doing quite well this season,” added Verri.

“If they are close to the Champions League places come January, they may say to Vlahovic: ‘Stop talking, score goals and come June we can sit down and find a solution. But if it is not Juventus now, Fiorentina will find a buyer for Vlahovic next summer, no problem.”

This maestro will be leaving Fiorentina soon to continue his career elsewhere and will certainly be at a top club in Europe, where it is, we don’t know, but remember the name, Dusan Vlahovic, certainly has a very high ceiling.

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