October 11, 2022
Arsenal-linked ‘Belgrade Zlatan’ now sends Juventus back in contention

Nothing stops Dusan Vlahovic. The Serb scored an instinctive goal 32 seconds into his Champions League debut against Villarreal to leave spectators searching for new superlatives.

Juventus were eventually held to a 1-1 draw, with the second leg taking place in Turin on Wednesday night, but the 22-year-old’s lightning-fast strike left even his opponents in awe.

“I’ve seen him in some TikTok videos but I’ve never seen him play before. Watching him live he was amazing, he’s a beast,” said Villarreal striker Yeremy Pino. Gazzetta dello Sport.

Pino’s assessment is likely shared by anyone who has followed Vlahovic closely over the past 18 months, and his former suitors like Arsenal might regret not moving sooner.

More than Soccer

Juve spent £66.6million on bringing him from Fiorentina in January, but all signs point to the fee being worth the money.

Gianluigi Buffon called Vlahovic “the best young player in the world along with Erling Haaland and Kylian Mbappe”, while Christian Vieri called him “the best natural striker in Europe along with Haaland”.

Haaland’s name is never slow to crop up in debates about Vlahovic’s place among Europe’s elite, and it’s easy to see why.

Comparisons are inevitable. Vlahovic is only six months older than the Norwegian, while both are big and powerful, quick and prolific.

The Serb insisted after his Villarreal goal that he doesn’t like comparisons but he couldn’t resist the temptation himself at times.

Vlahovic said last April that he was watching videos of Haaland to “try to understand his finishing and how he moves”, adding that “with commitment I can get there too”.

In September, he said that “Haaland is faster, but for the rest we are even”.

He’s not a man to shy away from a big statement. A teenager Vlahovic once told his Partizan teammate Valeri Bojinov that he was “the Belgrade Zlatan Ibrahimovic”.

Vlahovic scored just 32 seconds into his Champions League debut (Picture: Getty)

Bojinov went on to say, “I liked his arrogance. I thought he would become a strong player.

There is substance in trust, however. Vlahovic became the youngest debutant for the Belgrade club aged 15 in February 2016, and their youngest goalscorer two months later.

His rise continued after joining Fiorentina in 2018. He first caught the eye in 2019-20 aged 19, when he sprinted from inside his own half of pitch and crashed out in a last-minute equalizer against Inter Milan.

Vlahovic won the Serie A best young player award the following year after scoring 21 league goals.

He scored 33 league goals to become just the third player in the last 60 years to break the 30 mark in Serie A in a calendar year after Cristiano Ronaldo (33) and Luca Toni (31).

Only Robert Lewandowski, with 43, has done better in Europe’s top five leagues during this period.

But skeptics still wondered how Vlahovic would fare at the top level, as his only European experience before his move to Juventus was a substitute appearance in Partizan’s Europa League second qualifying round loss to Zaglebie Lubin, of Poland, during the 2016-17 season.

It took Vlahovic half a minute to silence those doubters at El Madrigal, and the ease of his transition to Massimiliano Allegri’s side was impressive.

Safer A-series

The 22-year-old has started well, scoring four goals in nine appearances, and seems to be the tonic for Juve’s main ill this season – their brutality in attack.

Vlahovic’s arrival provided an additional threat but also boosted Alvaro Morata into improved form and gave the team a boost that helped them go 12 games unbeaten in all competitions.

He was rested for Saturday’s 3-1 win over Sampdoria ahead of Wednesday’s second leg as he seeks to send the Old Lady through to the quarter-finals for the first time in three years.

Vlahovic will need to follow up on his superb Champions League debut to become widely recognized as a true rival to Haaland.

But his career path suggests he may well be remembered by his former suitors as the one who got away.

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