Dušan Vlahović has shouldered his way to the front of the queue as Serie A’s best young striker. He’s been on fire since Cesare Prandelli took over, scoring 11 goals (and adding an assist) in those 20 matches. That’s good for a goal/assist every 138.5 minutes. In that time, the rest of the squad has managed just 10 goals of their own; no other player so young bears so much of a responsibility to get the goals. Oh, and he’s just 21, so he’s likely far from the finished product.
Indeed, he’s improved immeasurably from the start of the year to this year. We’ve talked about the non-linear growth in players that he exemplifies, so it’s difficult to predict what exactly he could be in five years, but a 20-goal striker is well within the realm of reasonable outcomes. Fiorentina desperately need that kind of output from a striker, having not had just two players (Alberto Gilardino and Nikola Kalinić) break that number (and in all competitions, not just Serie A) since Luca Toni’s magical 2005-2006.
That might make you think that Vlahović is at the center of Fiorentina’s plans going forward and is one of the highest-paid players on the roster or is on the verge of becoming one with a new contract. Indeed, it was just a couple of months ago that he expressed interest in signing a contract extension that would keep him in Florence past 2023, when his current deal ends.
That extension, of course, would have to come with a significant raise. Vlahović earns a relatively paltry €800,000, even with Valentin Eysseric’s wage and less than half of what Aleksandr Kokorin earns. While that’s obviously a massive pile of money for a 21 year old (or anyone) to earn, it’s no secret that athletes know and discuss their compensation and that it forms an important milestone for setting dressing room hierarchies.
And that’s where the headaches begin if you’re a Fiorentina fan. For the past season and a half, the club has been betting everything on Vlahović becoming a top striker. He kept playing big minutes despite his obvious struggles in front of goal even when Patrick Cutrone was available, which certainly felt like a mandate from on high to gamble on the Serbian international blossoming exactly as he has.
So why wouldn’t the brass back that gamble by making sure their top property was locked up for the long term to a mutually satisfactory deal? While it’s never good to be saddled with an enormous wage for a player who’s constantly on the bench (José Callejón sends his regards), the Viola were assuming that Vlahović would become a top striker. Getting him signed to a big extension before he exploded into a goal machine should’ve been the number one priority; otherwise, they ran the risk that he’d excel, catch the attention of bigger clubs, and then push his way out, just like Federico Bernardeschi and Federico Chiesa.
Sporting director Daniele Pradè seems to have fumbled this one just as he has for Nikola Milenković. It’s either naive or stupid to assume that a young forward scoring a lot of goals won’t get offers, so it’s very important to sign those guys to big deals before they get everyone’s attention. Now, Vlahović and his agent Darko Ristić (who earned a degree in Florence) could reasonably argue that he’s too big for Fiorentina and deserves a chance in European football, a chance that Fiorentina doesn’t look likely to provide any time soon.
Goal reports that Vlahović turned down a 50% raise in the past couple of weeks that would’ve seen him make as much as Christian Kouamé. That’s just not enough for a player who’s obviously central to your team’s future. Fiorentina can certainly afford to offer more, especially with Franck Ribery’s €4 million coming off the books at season’s end.
Perhaps this is just a ploy from Ristić to coax more money from Pradè; Vlahović has suddenly become the most intriguing 21-year-old striker in Italy, after all. It’s also worth considering that Ristić’s International Sports Office is a pretty new organization and that Vlahović is its highest-profile guy. It may behoove them to push for a move to a mega-club in order to hitch their own star to his, to prove their own ambition and ability to bring future clients to similar heights. That’s how it works.
Naturally, this has opened the door for the usual transfer vultures. AS Roma has been the favorite candidate (leave us alone, Bren), but AC Milan, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, West Ham, and Borussia Dortmund have all popped up as options as well over the past couple of weeks or so. A first half hat trick against Benevento is only going to increase the chatter of an impending exit.
It’s yet another inexplicable contractual misstep from the Fiorentina management, who’ve failed to renew Nikola Milenković and Germán Pezzella as well. With Vlahović, though, the oversight is even more striking: the club bet on him to succeed, turned out to be correct, and might still lose out because it didn’t back its own strategy. That kind of vision is a damning indictment of whoever’s in charge of the longer-term planning, nearly as damning as the fact that it’s so entirely expected at this point.