With more league goals than Mbappe, Messi and Salah in 2021, Vlahovic become January’s No.1 transfer target

Only Robert Lewandowski has netted more times this year than the Serbian striker, who is now wanted by a host of clubs across Europe.

This time last year, Dusan Vlahovic was experiencing his first crisis of confidence.

Now, he is one of the most-coveted players in world football.

The reason for such a rapid and dramatic change in fortunes? A penalty.

On December 16, 2020, Fiorentina welcomed Sassuolo to the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

At the time, Vlahovic was selected to start but had managed just one goal in his previous 10 Serie A appearances.

The kid who had once described himself as “the Belgrade Ibrahimovic” was racked by self-doubt.

However, when he converted a 35th-minute penalty, everything changed.

“It was like a breath of fresh air; it gave me life,” he confessed. “From that moment, it became easier.”

That’s no exaggeration either.

That successful spot-kick proved a massive turning point in his young career, with Vlahovic closing out the year by scoring in three consecutive games, including a fine dinked finish in a 3-0 away win at Juventus.

In 2021, though, Vlahovic has gone to a whole other level.

Nobody mentioned the Serbian’s name at the recent Ballon d’Or awards, while there was no place for him on the 23-strong FIFPro World XI shortlist either.

However, Vlahovic has undeniably been the game’s breakout star of 2021.

Dusan Vlahovic

He has hit 32 Serie A goals this year alone. Across Europe’s ‘Big Five’ leagues, only the great Robert Lewandowski (42) has scored more.

What he’s doing, at just 21, is literally historic. Only one player has scored more Serie A goals across a calendar year in the past 60 years: Cristiano Ronaldo.

The former Juventus striker hit 33 in 2020, yet Vlahovic still has two more games to surpass that tally.

Whether he does or not, though, Vlahovic will be the hottest property on the January transfer market.

Fiorentina, of course, would be loath to lose Serie A’s capocannoniere [top scorer] halfway through the season.

The Viola are playing fantastic football under Vincenzo Italiano, who arrived from Spezia during the summer, and are presently fifth in the table.

European football is a legitimate target, but only if Vlahovic stays, and that’s by no means certain.

The Serbia international’s contract expires in the summer of 2023 and he has absolutely no intention of signing an extension.

Fiorentina, for their part, believe they have made Vlahovic a very generous offer and have no intention of bankrupting the club just to keep him.

“We made our proposal and it will not change,” Viola director Joe Barone told Mediaset. “Both Dusan and his agents did not accept.

“People ought to have recognition for an environment that gave them so much. Our proposal increased and increased, but, at a certain point, we had to set a limit.

“This club used to have €90 million (£76m/$101m) revenue and now, after Covid-19 and various other issues, it’s around €72m (£61m/$81m), so we must take that into account.

“There are limits, there must be respect for the group and there are areas where Fiorentina simply cannot go.”

And for the very same reason, the Viola would also be willing to let Vlahovic go.

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