Saturday, September 30

After Juventus splashed the cash to sign the prolific Dusan Vlahovic from Fiorentina in January, Ciro De Brita looks at the Serbia international’s rise to becoming one of Europe’s most feared strikers.

Dusan Vlahovic was named Serie A’s best young player in 2020-21 and hit the ground running at the start of last season, prompting Juventus to splash the cash to sign the youngster from Fiorentina in January. An impressive start to life in Turin has only helped to cement his emergence as one of Europe’s outstanding strikers, and further enhance his meteoric rise to the top; one which began in relative obscurity.

Vlahovic made his professional debut in February 2016 at the age of 16 for Partizan Belgrade in the Serbian SuperLiga, becoming the youngest debutant in the club’s entire history. His record-breaking first goal arrived a couple of months later, and after being scouted by several top European clubs such as Juventus and Arsenal he signed with Fiorentina on his 18th birthday, making his debut in September 2018.

Vlahovic scored 17 times in Serie A for La Viola in the first half of this season including a hat-trick at home against Spezia at the end of October, establishing himself as the leading scorer in the top-flight and attracting reported interest from many of Europe’s top clubs.

He also netted three times in the Coppa Italia for his former side before making the move to the Allianz Stadium in the winter transfer window in a deal worth €80m in total, €70m upfront and the rest in performance-related bonuses. Vlahovic will earn €7m a year on a contract that runs until 2026, while his agent reportedly received €11m. This adds to the ever-continuing, controversial long list of massive fees garnered by representatives of footballers. The Juve board will see that as money well spent on someone who scored 21 times last season for a struggling side.

By the end of 2021, the youngster had smashed in his 33rd goal of the calendar year in Serie A making him the only other player born after 2000 besides Erling Haaland to have scored at least 40 goals in Europe’s top-five leagues. The 22-year-old’s goalscoring record clearly interested the Old Lady who swooped in to poach yet another starlet from the Stadio Artemio Franchi to add to the likes of Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa who made the move in recent years.

For such a massive rivalry between the two clubs there have been several high-profile exoduses from Florence in the past which of course has angered the fans at the Franchi. Arguably, the transfer of Vlahovic to Juve was a shrewd piece of business by President Rocco Commisso as the attacker’s contract with I Gigliati was due to come to an end in 2023 and they could have lost him for free. Sporting director Daniele Prade was reluctant to offer the salary that Vlahovic wanted last season, so contract extension talks broke down and the door was left open for the striker to walk out in January.

La Viola fans will certainly miss the striker that was compared to their former legendary Argentine hitman, Gabriel Batistuta. For this writer, the comparisons with Batigol were not so much for his style of play but for the way he thundered the ball into the net; some of his goals were certainly reminiscent of the ones smacked in by the long-haired number nine.

The Belgrade native made a reasonably good start for Juve as he adjusts to being at a club of their size and stature during a period of relative transition, marking his debut with a goal against Hellas Verona in a 2-0 win before a match-winning brace away to Empoli a few weeks later. He also scored in his Champions League debut, a 1-1 draw at Villarreal in February, however his new side crashed out of the competition after a 3-0 defeat at home in the second leg.

It will be up to Max Allegri now to develop a game plan that can get the very best out of the forward who admittedly seemed isolated and cut adrift in their Derby d’Italia loss at home to Inter at the start of April. Allegri’s style has been called too negative in the past, so Vlahovic will hope that caution is thrown to the wind, and he gets to lead the line of a side that plays attractive attacking football. On the other hand, it seems unlikely the Juventus Coach will change his pragmatic approach, but moving forward he will hope that Vlahovic’s goals can lead the club to ultimately regaining their former dominance in Italy.
That may also require more consistency in the selection of those around him, as Vlahovic has already started in attack alongside Moise Kean, Alvaro Morata, and the soon to be departed Paulo Dybala since arriving at the club.

Vlahovic is set to appear in the 2022 World Cup in Qatar later this year as Serbia take on Brazil, Switzerland, and Cameroon in the group stage. The Eagles finished unbeaten at the top of their qualifying group ahead of the likes of Portugal and the Republic of Ireland. The Juventus forward has scored seven times in 14 internationals to date, three of which came in qualification. Serbia’s strike force will pose problems for their World Cup rivals as Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic also scored eight goals in qualifying and could be deployed alongside his younger teammate to form a devastating attack. Before the main event in the winter will be a raft of Nations League Group B games for Vlahovic and Serbia to warm up with against Norway, Sweden, and Slovenia.

Back on the peninsula, however, the Bianconeri will be hoping he can score the goals that will keep his side in the top four and the Champions League qualification places as that Derby d’Italia loss seemingly ended their outside chances of lifting the Scudetto. The Coppa Italia is their only remaining chance of silverware this season, so Juventus will hope that winning that competition could be the launchpad for further progress next term when they will undoubtedly have to rebuild a side around their newly acquired talented striker.

A familiar journey

Ciro Di Brita looks at five players who have moved along the well-trodden path from Florence to Turin

Roberto Baggio

There were riots on the streets with up to 50 people injured after the “Divine Ponytail” left Florence for Juventus in 1990 for a then world-record transfer fee of £8m. The rivalry between the clubs was born that day with La Viola fans despairing of the departure of their favourite son, who had spent five years with the club.  

Federico Bernardeschi

Bernardeschi joined Juventus for €40m on a five-year deal in the summer of 2017 after starring for La Viola in the three previous seasons. The golden boy of Italian football has never really fulfilled his early promise and could be set to leave the Allianz Stadium this summer as his contract is set to expire.

Federico Chiesa

The young winger joined the Old Lady in 2020 in a deal that could be worth around €60m after all variables are included. The son of former Parma striker Enrico starred for Italy during their European Championship win and spent four successful seasons at the Stadio Artemio Franchi scoring 34 times in 153 appearances. The 24-year-old is currently on the sidelines after sustaining a cruciate ligament injury that has impacted both Juve and the Azzurri.

Felipe Melo

The Brazilian midfielder spent the 2008-2009 season with La Viola before heading to Turin for a €25m fee after putting in some good performances for the Selecao in the 2009 FIFA Confederations Cup. Back then I Gigliati were a Champions League team under Coach Cesare Prandelli, however Fiorentina fans would not have been too upset by the news of his transfer to the Bianconeri.

Giorgio Chiellini

The old veteran began his Serie A career with La Viola in 2004-05 season, playing 37 times and scoring three goals as a left-back. Chiellini was signed by Juventus in the summer of 2004 for €6.5m from Livorno but was sold in a co-ownership deal to Fiorentina for €3.5m. The defender probably wasn’t in Florence long enough for fans to have become too attached.

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