No matter who is speaking, when they talk about Fiorentina they talk about Dusan Vlahovic. The situation with Dusan has captivated the attention of the Viola faithful for the better part of a year now. The promise of a large, talented, future world-class striker has now turned into the brilliance of a current world-class striker. It has been some time since Fiorentina has had one, so how have we gotten to the point where we currently find ourselves, a standoff?
The past couple years
Dusan’s real progress started last year under Cesare Prandelli. There is no doubting the impact Cesare had on Vlahovic’s goal scoring ability, however, many of the people I have spoken with have highlighted Cesare’s impact on the at that time 20-year old’s fragile mental state. Dusan never lacked for power, size, skill, or desire. Dusan was a teenager thrown into a very poorly constructed team and asked to score with minimal support. When that didn’t happen, he faced a lot of public fan and media backlash and it weighed heavily on him. Remember the fingers to the ears after his Inter equalizer? Yep, that banger! That was Dusan communicating to the fans that were not with him on the fact that he is world class. But was that necessary? For a young Dusan at that time it was.
Beppe Iachini did a good job shielding him from the negativity and took as much of the criticism off of Dusan and put it on his shoulders, but it wasn’t until Cesare came in that Dusan was able to learn how to properly get through all the noise, negativity and lofty expectations. When you saw Dusan’s social media post to Cesare upon his departure last year it was because of this help and support Cesare gave and that connection they will always have together; something that was missed in his development prior to Cesare coming onboard.
Like the Notorious B.I.G. before him, Dusan went from negative to positive pretty quickly and the rest was all good, well at least for him and his agent Darko Ristic. Since then, Dusan flourished as Fiorentina’s number one, but Fiorentina had somehow missed the mark on extending the kid they bet so much on. I don’t know why Fiorentina has struggled to re-sign their young talent under Barone and Prade, the exception being the gentlemen’s agreement on a one-year extension by Nikola Milenkovic this summer.
I’ve been told information that suggests that Dusan wanted to re-sign with Fiorentina during the early and middle parts of last year’s campaign. He loves it in Florence. He felt supported by the club during his hard times when Rocco Commisso and company came out publicly to defend their guy on many occasions. Dusan waited for negotiations to start and an offer to be received, but it didn’t come when he wanted it. Things reportedly changed when Fiorentina delayed an extension until after the season, also after Dusan blew up on the European scene. This confused Dusan. Reportedly, Fiorentina started negotiations with numbers that were always a few months out of date. Dusan was at that point outperforming himself each and every week. Salaries were repeatedly offered at numbers far below what Dusan valued himself at and what Darko Ristic was willing to discuss. Fiorentina was never able to catch up.
The 2021-22 season ended with Dusan carrying Fiorentina on his back. His body had gone through obvious physical growth and development. The once large kid with promise was now a grown man that other grown men bounced off, and thanks to Cesare Prandelli, he had the mental toughness to now go with his god given physical talents. Some people will now even point out that his confidence borders cockiness at times. Semantics. Dusan’s newfound fame brought with it the attention of big clubs and their ability to meet his lofty salary requests make a more assured investment in the players surrounding him. A large investment by a club into a supporting cast was reported to be a high priority of Dusan’s, which makes sense coming off the previous two seasons where he had minimal support.
Let’s introduce some new characters
Now does a 20-year-old have to leave his club for the spotlight of Europe’s elite? No, but when you grow up modeling your career in the likeness of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, a man who moved to Ajax by the time he was 19 and then to a dark place in the north of Italy when he was 22, there is precedent to leave. That also gives Darko Ristic an easy picture to paint in illustrating all the reasons to move away from Florence.
From all accounts I have gathered Dusan was ecstatic with the Nico Gonzalez move early in this summer’s mercato. There was hope that Fiorentina would surround him with talent to make a push for Europe, if not the Champions League itself. He felt that strongly about his skills and his ability to carry the club, he just hoped for support. When Fiorentina failed to field a capable right winger and left some gaps elsewhere on the pitch and in its depth, it seems his patience all but faded.
I do find some empathy for Dusan in wanting to see more investment made into the team, but still something didn’t make sense. Why would a player who knew he would be here for another year turn down millions to do the same job when most players before him would have extended even if only ceremoniously? From what I was told, there are a couple factors here.
First is business. Darko Ristic believes he is the next super-agent with a wealth of talent coming up through the ranks of his fertile home ground. The Balkan countries are producing so much talent right now and none of those are hotter than Dusan Vlahovic. Like any good businessman who thinks himself great, he has a plan and, from what I have been told for months, that plan is to put Dusan in Torino in the summer of 2022 or 2023. While Darko is trying to make a name for himself, he also sees the money there too, and agents are making money hand over fist these days. Placing Dusan in Torino makes good business sense.
Word out there is that Darko has come to an agreement with large signing fees due back to him if he brings Dusan to Juventus for a smaller than market value fee. This is no surprise. This is how Juventus has been able to build the most valuable club in Italy – Pirlo, Pogba, Khedira, Alves, Can, Ramsey, Rabio. And like the saying goes, as flies go to merda, so good footballers go to Juventus for free.
So how would this work? Well, an agreement between the agent and Juventus states that a move to Torino would start in June 2022 for a smaller fee, say 40-45 million euros, due to Dusan’s contract expiring one year later. If Fiorentina plays hard ball, Ristic is prepared to have Dusan play out the final year of his contract and then move to Torino in the summer of 2023 for free. It’s all very scary for any Fiorentina fan, especially this one who has grown quite fond of the big guy and would hate to see him in prison stripes the rest of his playing life.
Let’s look at the second reason why I’ve been told Dusan wouldn’t sign an extension with Fiorentina - perception. Joe Barone has come out publicly and stated on multiple player’s contact stand offs that “these players have contracts with Fiorentina, and they will honor them. No further discussions.” While that statement is true in its premise, it has reportedly created a perception by players that Fiorentina lacks for compassion towards a player’s desires. This is not something I believe should hold much merit. Rocco has built great relationships with his players and when necessary he has protected each and every one of them. Rocco spends as much time as he can with the team, building and growing relationships with his boys. I’ve met Rocco before; he is as charming and genuine a guy as they come.
If this one is true it is very unfortunate. Either way, this perception has impacted negotiations. Unlike Milenkovic, Dusan is unwilling to give up his leverage, perceiving the public stance of Fiorentina’s brass to create a win-win situation for both parties does not exist. Can you blame him? Yes and no, either way, Dusan will not renew.
So, what now?
I will speak for myself. I have said since we recapped the mercato on our podcast in August that I am happy to see Dusan stay another year IF AND ONLY IF he doesn’t make his way from Fiorentina to Juventus. This would mean we would have to face our greatest talent over the past 20 years playing alongside our second greatest talent over the past 20 years twice a year. The only scenario I can foresee this not happening is to find a way to sell Dusan in January. Real Madrid, Manchester City, Liverpool, Tottenham, Atletico, Bayern - all the world’s superpowers want a piece of this kid, and for good reason. He is a stud. To avoid the city burning in June of 2022 or 2023 I believe a move this January to one of these large market clubs should be prioritized. We can make more money while keeping him away from our biggest enemy.
The problem is January is a very tough window to move high-profile players. It is also a very tough window to replace a high-profile player. Big players don’t move much in January. This is further exacerbated by the fact that Fiorentina came into this season without a vice-Dusan. Rumors out there speak of Borja Mayoral coming in as a stop gap, which is not overly exciting for any Fiorentina fan. If we must take a step back for a half of a season to prevent Dusan playing the next 10 years with Juventus, it is worth it to me.
Right now, Fiorentina is in a bind. Right now, Barone and Prade are in a bind. Unless Rocco can have a breakthrough with Dusan over the next month, this is going to be another one of those “there is no good solution” situations. I too would love to see another 6 months of Dusan scoring on every club in Italy, but this may be one of those where we are better served relying on Rocco’s innate business instincts to mitigate our/his future risk versus the pursuit of near-term success.
What are your thoughts? How would you like to see this play out?