Saturday, January 22, 2022

Dusan Vlahovic transfer analysis: Will Fiorentina ace move to Arsenal in January and is he worth $85 million?

Arsenal and Juventus lead the January chase for Fiorentina’s in-form striker Dusan Vlahovic. The 21-year-old Serbian has firmly established himself as one of Europe’s hottest properties after scoring 33 Serie A goals in 2021 — a joint-record alongside Cristiano Ronaldo (you can catch every single Serie A match streaming only on Paramount+).

Fiorentina are certainly not short of suitors but are also in no rush to sell Vlahovic this month. The Belgrade-born forward is valued at around $85 million and recently responded to transfer speculation by stating his focus is to help La Viola qualify for Europe.

“Only God knows what will happen in the next period,” said Vlahovic, who has 16 of Fiorentina’s 34 Serie A goals this season. “My wish is to bring Fiorentina to Europe. We have not been there for a long time. I don’t know what can happen overnight. We’ll see.”

Vlahovic is certainly open to a January transfer but won’t rush into a move. However, with his contract ending in June 2023 a sale this month might command the biggest fee. CBS Sports understands Fiorentina are confident they’ll get an attractive fee in the summer, too, due to the volume of suitors. They expect even more clubs to be circling Vlahovic in six-months time.

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Vlahovic scored 33 league goals in 2021 from 122 shots surpassing his expected goals (23.69) by 10. TruMedia/Stats Perform

So how likely is Vlahovic to leave in January?

The short answer is both Vlahovic and Fiorentina will be swayed by a January move, but only if the right offer comes in. The long answer is far more complicated and intricate.

From Fiorentina’s perspective, they are resigned to losing Vlahovic in 2022. La Viola naturally crave a hefty transfer fee — in the ballpark of $85 million — with attractive add-ons. These would be triggered by Vlahovic’s appearances or goals scored and potentially Champions League qualification from his new club. A generous sell-on percentage will be necessary to strike any deal, too.

Vlahovic himself is quite content in Florence. Naturally, a January transfer will significantly increase his earnings. But it would also have to guarantee him European (if not Champions League) soccer next season, whereas a summer move allows him to know exactly what he’s in for in 2022-23.

In a World Cup year, he’ll also be conscious of getting regular game time if he joins one of Europe’s elite clubsSerbia qualified for Qatar in style with Vlahovic (4) and Fulham’s Aleksandar Mitrovic (8) contributing 12 goals as Dragan Stojkovic’s side won their group ahead of Portugal without losing a game.

With the first-ever winter World Cup not starting until November, Vlahovic doesn’t have to stress about speculation surrounding his future distracting him during the tournament and that’s partly why he’s in no hurry to leave now.

 

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Serbia won six and drew two of their eight qualifiers en route to Qatar.  Getty Images

Are Arsenal favorites to sign Vlahovic?

Arsenal have highlighted Vlahovic as their number one striker target in January, ahead of both Real Sociedad’s Alexander Isak and Everton’s Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

The Gunners are prepared to offer $60 million plus Uruguayan midfielder Lucas Torreira (valued at $17 million), who is already on-loan at Fiorentina and has made 15 Serie A appearances to date this season.

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Fiorentina do have the option to buy Torreira separately for $17 million when his loan spell ends this summer. Getty Images

Manager Mikel Arteta has made no secret of his desire to bolster his attacking options; and when asked directly about Vlahovic, he responded that “[Arsenal’s technical director] Edu and his team are working very hard because we know exactly what we need to do…”

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is currently at the Africa Cup of Nations with Gabon and could plausibly be sold in January after having his commitment questioned before being stripped of the captaincy in December. And with Eddie Nketiah also entering the final six months of his contract (and Crystal Palace chasing his signature) Arsenal urgently require a goal scorer — almost as much as they need midfield reinforcement.

The pretty public Aubameyang fall-out, coupled with fourth-placed Arsenal’s encouraging form, has super-charged the Vlahovic chase, and more broadly put pressure on Edu to find a marquee striker this window to ensure Champions League soccer is secured.

Lille’s hugely in-demand Jonathan David is on Arsenal’s radar but the Canadian is not available before the summer and ideally Arteta doesn’t want to wait that long to find a flagship striker. 

The good news for Arsenal is Fiorentina are not against a cash-plus-player deal — although sources tell CBS Sports a further $8-10 million is still needed to further advance talks.

But the real (and potentially insurmountable) challenge is convincing Vlahovic to join. There is certainly some truth to rumblings he’s lukewarm on a move to North London.

That doesn’t mean a transfer is impossible. But Arsenal must be prepared to make Vlahovic one of the top earners at the Emirates Stadium and, as importantly, sell him on how he fits in.

He should work well as a focal point in Arteta’s 4-2-3-1 system, but will want guarantees of playing time and to get sense of who else could join — especially any targets that will provide him with quality service.

Arsenal are likely to prioritize defensive or box-to-box central midfielders in this window since they are sparse in that area. Lyon’s Brazilian Bruno Guimaraes has been linked, but according to CBS transfer guru Fabrizio Romano will cost at least $60 million and is not currently on Edu’s January shortlist.

Palmeiras’ left-footed, deep-lying midfielder Danilo appears a more realistic target (you can catch all the Palmeiras matches, as well as the rest of the Brasileirao only on Paramount+). The 20-year-old has won back-to-back Copa Libertadores and would provide instant cover for Thomas Partey, who is currently at the Africa Cup of Nations with Ghana.

If Vlahovic has reservations, perhaps he’ll wait a few weeks to see what other concrete business Arsenal complete. This would leave the Gunners in limbo, and perhaps prompt them to opt for Isak or Calvert-Lewin instead. After all, Arteta has made it clear he doesn’t want players who aren’t sold on the club.

“Everyone wants to come here,” he told Arsenal legend Ian Wright back in May 2020. “We have a really clear idea of what we are. If I have to convince a player to stay or join us. To Arsenal? It holds me back a little.”

Essentially, Arteta must swallow his pride and make a clear and personal pitch to Vlahovic. And to do that he (or Edu) also need to win over Vlahovic’s agent, Darko Ristic, which has proven challenging to date.

The desire is clearly there from Arsenal – and they are currently the most active suitor, largely because they know a quick January deal is their best chance of success. But to call them ‘favorites’ would be downplaying the fact that Vlahovic — through a mix of caution and ambition rather than ego — is playing hard to get.

Who else is interested in signing Vlahovic?

Arsenal’s main rival for Vlahovic in January is Fiorentina’s bitter foes Juventus. Vlahovic views a move to the Serie A champions as a bit more stable since it would allow him to remain close to friends and family.  But Juventus are currently fifth in Serie A; and despite starting their 2022 with an astonishing 4-3 win at Roma they are by no means guaranteed Champions League soccer next season.

They key question is whether Fiorentina want to do more business with Juve. Federico Bernardeschi (2017) and Federico Chiesa (2020) both swapped Florence for Turin, but Chiesa’s departure left a bad taste. Fiorentina’s Italian-American President Rocco Commisso claimed Juventus “stole” the Italian winger using “dirty work” as part of a two-year loan with an obligation to buy.

Vlahovic is highly unlikely to be loaned anywhere, even with an obligation to buy, so Juve’s financial woes will require them to offload players first before submitting a January offer. 

Tottenham could be a factor in this respect since Antonio Conte is keen on a $55 million swoop for winger Dejan Kulusevski, which just might trigger a Juve offer for Vlahovic. 

Spurs also haven’t ruled out signing Vlahovic, who is known to be a fan of Conte, themselves. The Italian’s predecessor, Nuno Espirito Santo, wanted the Serbian over the summer but Vlahovic was worried he’d end up an understudy to Harry Kane. But with Kane only managing four Premier League goals to date, and potentially departing this summer, Vlahovic would surely feel less concerned about his place in the pecking order now.

Conte’s 3-4-3 system compliments his strengths. He thrives playing as the focal point in Fiorentina’s front three (in a 4-3-3) and his arrival would give the Tottenham boss the chance to switch to his favored 3-5-2-formation deployed at Inter. Atletico Madrid, Manchester City, Milan and Paris Saint-Germain are other clubs scouting Vlahovic but the quartet would prefer to make their move in the summer.

What type of player is Vlahovic?

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Vlahovic asked for Ibrahimovic’s shirt when the pair met in March in Milan’s 3-2 victory at Fiorentina. Getty Images

A Vlahovic move to Milan would see him link up with his boyhood idol Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who he modelled his game on.

Ex-Fiorentina striker Valeri Bojinov — who played with Vlahovic at Partizan — alerted then-Fiorentina sporting director Pantaleo Corvino to his talent about a year before a pre-contract was agreed in June 2017.

“I told Corvino to sign Vlahovic when he was 15 or 16,” Bolinov told Transfermarkt. “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.”

Like Zlatan, left-footed Vlahovic is a natural finisher and pretty traditional number nine. At 6ft 3in, he’s tall and physical but with a deft touch usually associated with a more diminutive forward. His biggest strength is his textbook shooting technique. It has allowed him to join another influence, Erling Haaland, as one of just four players born since 2000 to score at least 20 goals in one of Europe’s top five leagues.

“I watch Haaland and I try to understand his finishing and how he moves,” Vlahovic told La Repubblica. “Then I focus on my strong points and my weaknesses. It may be presumptuous, but with commitment I can get there too.” This season Vlahovic tops the Serie A charts for for goals, post-shot expected goals and shots taken and ranks second for expected goals and touches in the opposition box. 

DUSAN VLAHOVIC IN 2021/22 SERIE A (SOURCE: TWENTY3)

GOALS

16

1

EXPECTED GOALS

11.08

2

POST-SHOT EXPECTED GOALS

12.82

1

TOUCHES IN OPPOSITION BOX

93

2

SHOTS ATTEMPTED

63

1

Vlahovic’s pace has also impressed CBS Sports pundit Micah Richards, who believes he’d offer a Premier League club the complete package. 

“I have watched him a couple of times now,” Richards told BBC Sport. “He is lightning. It’s ridiculous. His left foot is like a wand. I am telling you now, he is everything you need.”

Naturally for a 21-year-old, there are still areas for improvement as well. The first thing to note is that five of Vlahovic’s 16 Serie A goals this campaign (and 12 of his 44 at Fiorentina) have come from penalties — hardly a sustainable goal-scoring method. His shot map also shows a few too many low-percentage attempts from outside the box or acute angles.

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Vlahovic has scored 16 goals in 1,698 minutes this season in Serie A. TruMedia/Stats Perform

The other area of mild concern is Vlahovic isn’t always overly involved in games. This season he averages just 33.4 touches per 90 minutes. He is tasked with being an outlet, receiving the ball from deep, offloading it then making his way into the area. But his 71% pass-competition is much worse than Fiorentina’s average (84.4%). In fact, of the 368 players in Serie A who have attempted more than 100 passes this season in Serie A, only 34 have a lower pass completion than he does. Vlahovic has also been involved in the fewest open-play sequences on his team per 90 minutes (27.4). In other words, he’s not really part of La Viola’s build up play.

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Vlahovic spends most of his time in central areas. TruMedia/Stats Perform

Vlahovic isn’t asked to press at Fiorentina but a move to most of his suitors (especially the Premier League ones) would most likely require him to do so and generally offer a bit more defensively.

That’s what makes Lille’s David such a sought after prospect. He’s is notably more selfless and involved in games, constantly connecting play. In contrast, Vlahovic is a potent yet old-school striker. When he scores, and it’s often, he wins games and plaudits but if he doesn’t find the net he can put in some pretty anonymous displays.

What will happen next?

It really all hinges on Vlahovic rather than Fiorentina. La Viola will listen to offers and also won’t stop the Serbian leaving for the right price. Either Arsenal must make Vlahovic an incredible pitch he just can’t refuse — or in aggressively trying, end up accelerating the Serbian’s exit elsewhere in January.

And if Vlahovic isn’t convinced by Arsenal, he may just wait until the summer to decide his future when the likes of PSG and Manchester City would likely enter the race. Fiorentina are comfortable delaying a sale since they’d then have their star man to try and qualify for Europe. La Viola last appeared in the Europa League in 2016-17 and haven’t been part of the Champions League since 2009-10 when the lost to Bayern Munich in the last 16.

Unfortunately for Arsenal, the longer the saga drags on the less likely they are to land their target, so the next few weeks are very much a test of Edu’s negotiation skills and the club’s ambition as they look to try and pull off a dream signing.

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