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End-of-year review: Forwards

It’s really Dušan and everyone else.

Torino FC v ACF Fiorentina - Serie A Photo by Chris Ricco/Getty Images

Dušan Vlahović

What happened: After scoring just 1 goal through his first 12 appearances and looking completely shattered, Cesare Prandelli came in and fixed him. Through the remaining 27 games, he banged in 21 goals en route to earning Serie A’s best U23 player award. He struck from the penalty spot (6 goals), yes, but also from set pieces, from crosses, from through balls, and from outside the area. He figured out how to body defenders off, hold up play, and serve as an out ball. He basically morphed into the league’s best young striker in 6 months and looks like Fiorentina’s best center forward since, I don’t know, prime Adrian Mutu? Luca Toni? He showed us that he’s already world class and that he’s just scratching the surface.

Final stats: 40 appearances (35 starts), 3090 minutes, 21 goals (4th), 3 assists, 1 yellow card, 18.4 xG (4th), 114 aerial duels won (5th), 205 attacking third pressures (5th)

Best moment: How does a first half hat trick against Benevento strike you? A reflex strike, a real poacher’s finish, and a mind-bending effort from distance succinctly demonstrated what he’s all about.

What’s next: His contract runs out in 2022 and he hasn’t re-upped yet, leading to speculation that everyone from Real Madrid to Borussia Dortmund to Arsenal want him, but the arrival of Gennaro Gattuso seems to have him leaning towards extending his stay in Florence. This is very good news.

Final grade: A Those first couple of months were woeful, but what came after is a goalscoring explosion we haven’t seen since Zio Luca was in town. Dušan is for real.

Franck Ribery

What happened: It was a lot like last year, honestly. The French veteran showed class with the ball at his feet and showed plenty of desire, but required the rest of the team to play to his strengths, sometimes to everyone’s detriment. He missed a fair amount of time with injuries but still had some great moments, although his petulance when teammates missed passes or runs seemed to increase as the season wore on and he left Vlahović completely isolated up front for long stretches of time.

Final stats: 30 appearances (28 starts), 2194 minutes, 2 goals, 6 assists, 7 yellow cards, 1 red card, 61 successful dribbles (6th), 73 fouls won (7th)

Best moment: I’ll say the second game of the season against Inter Milan. Laid on two wonderful assists for Gaetano Castrovilli and Federico Chiesa (maybe the pass of the season) and looked lively as he ever has while wearing the armband. Feels a bit too apropos that the Viola still wound up losing.

What’s next: Currently a free agent, he’s been negotiating with Gattuso and company about a return to Florence next year. While he’s still got plenty to offer, it might be in everyone’s best interest if he moved on, and it sounds like that’s the likeliest outcome as of now.

Final grade: C+ Provided some of the season’s best moments but probably hampered the team’s growth in the long run.

Christian Kouamé

What happened: Started the year looking strong, coming close to scoring against Torino several times and finally getting one in against Inter, but completely fell apart afterwards. Part of it was terrible coaching—due to his incredible athleticism, he was miscast as a target man—and part of it was that his touch completely deserted him; the latter is likely a function of his knee injury last year, given how good he was with Genoa, but he was genuinely hard to watch at times. It didn’t help that he was mostly used off the bench in 10-minute cameos and that he seemed to be trying to force things to earn more playing time.

Final stats: 36 appearances (11 starts), 1161 minutes, 2 goals, 1 assist, 5 yellow cards

Best moment: His goal in the Coppa Italia against Inter was a reminder of what he can do; maybe if Fiorentina only played the Nerazzurri, he’d have scored 30. I’d argue, though, the opener against the Granata was his emotional high point. He had four headers in the first half that he either missed or saw Salvatore Sirigu miraculously save, leading to tremendous optimism about his outlook for the rest of the year.

What’s next: He’s only 23 and his contract runs until 2024, so it’s not like Fiorentina should give up on him, but it’s probably in his best interest to take a loan move away, spend a year getting back in form, and then compete for a role in 2022-2023. There’ve been rumors of interest in him, but it’s hard to imagine anyone spending enough for the Viola to recoup the €12 million spent on him.

Final grade: D+ I’m convinced that he wasn’t mentally recovered and will wind up being a really good player, but it just didn’t happen this year.

José Callejón

What happened: In some ways, he was set up to fail right from the start. Brought in on a free as a presumptive Chiesa replacement, he never figured out how to play wingback under Giuseppe Iachini and looked completely lost at striker. As the squad’s second-highest earner, he was always a square peg in a round hole, and that’s not his fault. However, he was pretty dreadful on his own as well, constantly losing the ball with lazy passes and drifting to the periphery at all times. He didn’t start a game after January and it’s tough to argue that he should’ve after his apparent disinterest.

Final stats: 22 appearances (7 starts), 767 minutes, 1 goal, 1 assist

Best moment: Assisted Vlahović’s winner against Cagliari with a lovely low cross and we all thought maybe he and the club had figured out how to work together.

What’s next: Fiorentina has an option to bring him back for another year and might end up doing so simply because he’s a winger and the club desperately needs them, but he’ll probably spend most of his time on the bench if that happens. He could very well be bounced out after just a year, though, and that’s probably the better option for him and for the Viola.

Final grade: D 3 good moments don’t wipe away the unspeakable disappointment of an entire season.

Aleksandr Kokorin

Nah, I’m kidding.