All you need to know about Fiorentina's £70m striker Dusan Vlahovic

Dusan Vlahovic wanted to be a doctor but is now on the brink of matching Ronaldo’s Serie A goal record after taking inspiration from ‘idol’ Ibrahimovic… it’s no wonder Pep Guardiola is ‘in love’ with the £70m-rated Fiorentina goal machine

  • Dusan Vlahovic has scored 30 goals in 40 Serie games for Fiorentina in 2021 
  • His deal expires in 2023 and Fiorentina have said he will not sign an extension 
  • Manchester United have made checks on him while Man City are also in the race 
  • Here, Sportsmail walks you through the Serbia international’s career so far 

Dusan Vlahovic has certainly been given the big billing, having already been compared with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku and Erling Haaland.

But perhaps there is a little more substance behind these comparisons than the ones usually banded about willy-nilly regarding the supposed next Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

The Serbia international has scored 30 goals in 40 Serie A games this calendar year, 13 of which have come in 16 games this season.

Dusan Vlahovic has scored 30 goals in 40 Serie A games for Fiorentina this calendar year

Vlahovic took his tally for 2021 in the league to 30 with a goal against Bologna on Sunday

That is a superior goalscoring record for the Tuscany outfit than Gabriel Batistuta and Luca Toni, but his statistics in Serie A history are even more stunning. His 30th goal of 2021 against Bologna on Sunday saw him equal both Gonzalo Higuain and Hernan Crespo’s tally of Serie A goals in a calendar year.

More interestingly, he needs just three more to catch up with Ronaldo, who netted 33 for Juventus in 2020, and become the third-most prolific striker in Italian top-flight history in a single calendar year.

His accomplishments have not gone unnoticed among Europe’s top clubs either. Sportsmail understands Manchester United have made checks on the tall forward and have entered the race to sign the £70million-rated man.

Meanwhile, the manager in the other half of the city, Pep Guardiola, is said to be ‘in love’ with the Serbian forward’s goal-scoring ability and the Premier League giants have begun preliminary talks with Fiorentina, according to La Repubblica. 

That tally of 30 in a single calendar year is just three short of Cristiano Ronaldo’s 33 in 2020

United have made checks on him while Pep Guardiola (above) is said to be ‘in love’ with him

Vlahovic’s contract expires in June 2023 and Fiorentina president Rocco Commisso revealed in October the Serbian won’t sign a contract extension. 

So how has his career gone so far, and what sort of player will his future employers be getting, with Liverpool, Tottenham and Arsenal also in the mix? 

Despite possessing an imposing frame standing at 6ft 2in, the Serbian – unlike many before him of similar height – has a wonderful touch and a set of excellent technical skills.

However, his height does mean his overwhelming quality is his aerial ability and physical presence, the sort of striker who in the Premier League could be used as a target man to help bring others into play.

It is therefore unsurprising that he was dubbed the ‘new Ibrahimovic’ soon after the forward – born 28 days into the new millennium – signed his first professional contract with Partizan Belgrade at the age of 15.

Vlahovic broke through into Partizan Belgrade’s first team at the beginning of 2016

At the beginning of 2016, he was handed the chance to join the Serbian side’s first team and in February that year became the club’s youngest ever debutant in a match against OFK Beograd.

Youngest debutant soon became the club’s youngest scorer in April as he netted in a 3-2 home win against FK Radnik Surdulica. 

The other record he broke was becoming the youngest player in the Eternal derby when he came off the bench against bitter rivals Red Star Belgrade, a feat previously held by Luka Jovic.

It was therefore evident by this time that his back-up plan to become a doctor were not going to be necessary.

But while there was potential, he was still somewhat of a slow-burner in his native country, and a modest return of one goal in 21 league games and just three goals in 27 appearances in two years meant he needed to raise his profile.

He went on to win trophies with them but he was soon signed by Fiorentina in 2018

That is where Fiorentina stepped in in 2017, with the Serie A club signing a pre-contract agreement with Partizan for Vlahovic to join the club in July 2018.

However, adapting to a new league and country at just 18 years old was always going to provide its own set of challenges. That appeared to be the case for Vlahovic, who failed to score in any of his 10 games for Fiorentina in the 2018-19 season.

In fact, it took him until September 2019, a full year after his Serie A debut – which came against Inter Milan – to score his first goal in Italian football. But even then, evidence he would turn into the goal machine he is now was not immediately forthcoming.  

Even as recently as 12 months ago, Vlahovic was not considered a regular starter by the club based in Florence. 

He completed 90 minutes in just two of his first 10 Serie A appearances of the season, and even found himself on the bench against Parma in November 2020, the month in which he netted for Serbia for the first time against Russia.

Vlahovic did his best to try and convince the club he was the man best placed to lead the line, scoring a goal in each of Fiorentina’s last three games of 2020 against Sassuolo, Hellas Verona and Juventus.

Vlahovic struggled for goals after arriving, scoring his first league goal a year after joining

But the hierarchy did not appear convinced, so much so that Russia international Aleksandr Kokorin was signed from Spartak Moscow in January. Fiorentina were only four points above the relegation zone at the end of the calendar year, and with Serie A survival far from guaranteed, a move in the transfer market was not surprising.

In hindsight though, they need not have signed the Russian, who has gone on to make only seven appearances without scoring since January, such has been Vlahovic’s form.

The Serbian went on to score 14 goals in Serie A from mid-February until the end of last season in May. Not only has he nearly equalled that tally this season, but his strikes have come in critical matches at critical moments.

After scoring twice to hand AC Milan their first Serie A defeat of the season last month, Fiorentina boss Vincenzo Italiano lauded the 21-year-old.

Despite Vlahovic’s fine form to end 2020, Fiorentina signed Aleksandr Kokorin in January

‘He is destined to a great career, not because he scores goals and knows how to play, but because of the way he trains,’ Italiano told Sky Sport Italia.

‘It’s extraordinary to watch him train, he takes all that with him into the match situation. He knows everything depends on performances and has the character of a veteran.’

After netting a brace against Atalanta at the start of the season, a game in which he took his calendar year tally to 20, Corriere dello Sport were perhaps even more effusive than Italiano in their praise.

‘He is an authentic force of nature, just like Romelu Lukaku and [Erling] Haaland,’ wrote the Rome-based paper.

However, it is always the comparison with Milan and Sweden veteran Ibrahimovic which has stuck, perhaps because he is the forward who has arguably had the greatest impact on his career aside from the comparisons.

Vlahovic reached a new level this year, scoring 14 goals in Serie A from mid-February until May

Speaking about meeting the Swede in March this year after Milan had won at Fiorentina, Vlahovic said: ‘When we lost 3-2 in Florence, I took advantage of the fact that he might not be very angry and asked him for the shirt.

‘He signed it for me, we took a photo and wrote the dedication in our language. He told me to continue and never give up. I’m not very good at speaking when I meet an idol.’ 

But while he may be shy in front of his idol, he appears to have adopted a more boisterous attitude towards his comparison with Ibrahimovic from a young age.   

Speaking about the time he told former Fiorentina sporting director Pantaleo Corvino to sign Vlahovic, ex-Fiorentina star Valeri Bojinov said: ‘I told Corvino to sign Vlahovic when he was 15 or 16.

He has most often been compared to AC Milan and Sweden veteran Zlatan Ibrahimovic

‘Vlahovic was crazy, really crazy. He used to tell me, ”I am a Zlatan Ibrahimovic from Belgrade, I will play for the strongest clubs”. I liked his arrogance. I thought he would become a strong player.’

Being such a strong player is one thing, but former Serbia striker Darko Kovacevic told Radio Bruno he believes Vlahovic can go on to become one of the finest players in the world in his position.

He said: ‘I don’t say this because he is Serbian like me, but because he is a very high level player and a hard worker. If he continues like this, in three, four years he will be among the top five best strikers in the world.’

Most strikers need to be in the category to have any chance of representing clubs such as Real Madrid, who The Sun claim Vlahovic has spoken about in terms of teams he wishes to play for. 

Vlahovic has plenty of interest in his services from the Premier League ahead of this summer

But it is the Premier League rather than LaLiga where the majority of interest is coming from, although a £55m January price tag is likely to put off most suitors next month. 

By then, Vlahovic will hope to have got close to the Serie A records of Gunnar Nordahl (36 goals in 1950) and Felice Placido Borel (41 goals in 1933) for goals in a calendar year, particularly with bottom club Salernitana and Sassuolo at home and Hellas Verona away in the league before the Christmas break. 

The long-term ambition, however, will remain to exceed even these already lofty heights, and he seems to possess the attributes and mentality to do just that. 

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