Fiorentina released a statement today informing the world that Dušan Vlahović would not be signing a new contract. As explained by club owner Rocco Commisso, the star striker’s entourage has refused all possible offers, including a club-record wage, to extend his deal. That means that he’ll either be sold in the next 3 transfer windows or leave as a free agent at the end of 2023.
It’s a massive blow for the Viola. Vlahović exploded last year into Europe’s best young striker (non-Haaland division) with 21 goals and 3 assists and, with 4 goals and an assist this term, he’s maintained that momentum. He’s already the best striker the team’s had since at least the days of Alberto Gilardino and he’s only 21. He shouldered a larger goal-scoring burden than anyone in the league last year. He’s the exact kind of player that a club wants to build around for the next decade.
The task now is to figure out Dušan’s value. Sporting director Daniele Pradè supposedly turned down a €70 million offer this summer, so it’s clear the club sees him as worth more than that. But now that everyone knows he’s not signing on the line, how much does that drop his value? As we count down towards his free agency, how much lower will that price get? Will it get low enough that the value of another full season of Vlahović is worth more than a piddling transfer fee?
In some ways, this is Pradè reaping a whirlwind he’s spent the past year or more sowing. As we’ve discussed previously, Fiorentina bet on Vlahović to reach this level two years ago. That’s why the brass forced out Patrick Cutrone and stuck by the Serbian even as he struggled. Having put so many eggs in that basket, it made sense to go ahead and pay the then-teenager like the top option up front.
Instead, Pradè hemmed and hawed and consistently tried to lowball his star player; remember, Dušan was asking for €2 million midway through last season, then increased his salary demands as his performances improved and his reputation grew. The club never seemed to catch up, which couldn’t have created a particularly trusting situation between the parties.
In fairness, it may be that Dušan never meant to sign an extension and simply slow-played Fiorentina the whole way. His agent Darko Ristić is an up-and-comer who was always going to push his biggest client into the highest profile move possible, which would in turn push his own name into the spotlight. By incrementally increasing demands to stay just ahead of Pradè and Joe Barone’s offers, he could keep the fans from turning on a wantaway youngster the way they did on Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa before him.
While the Viola brass may have bungled the buildup, let’s also give credit where it’s due. Rocco’s statement is about as forthright as any you’ll ever get from a club owner anywhere. It’s a calm reporting of the facts, acknowledging that the negotiations didn’t work out without slinging blame around. It’s a graceful touch, and as fans, we should appreciate his honesty.
However, it also means the rumor mill is about to kick up like crazy. There’ve been whispers that somebody’s been tapping Vlahović up, offering him a contract behind the scenes, and that he was always going to leave and follow the money. Since he’s not cup-tied, he’s the exact sort of player a team in continental competition would target in January.
While you don’t generally replace a player as talented as Dušan Vlahović in a like-for-like move, there are options moving forward. However, Pradé needs to flip through his Rolodex and find this team another to striker to sign right away, because spending half a season with nobody but Aleksandr Kokorin to lead the line is as grim as any situation we’ve ever seen. And this is a team that’s employed Amauri, Alessandro Matri, and el Tanque Silva as staring center forwards.
The long and short of it, though, is that we can start the Goodbye Dušan countdown now, and that’s not a very pleasant thought at all.