Dusan Vlahovic is the name on everybody’s lips during this January transfer window. And that comes as no surprise to the man who discovered him – Partizan Belgrade’s former sporting director Ivica Iliev. Vlahovic has been in stunning form for Italian side Fiorentina for the last two seasons, and has scored a sensational 20 goals in 23 Serie A appearances so far in the current campaign.
His scintillating efforts have seen him linked with a transfer to some of the biggest clubs around Europe, and it remains to be seen whether a move comes to fruition this month or in the summer.
Speaking to Express Sport, Iliev recalled the first time he laid eyes on the player who is well on his way to becoming one of the best strikers in the world.
“I became sporting director for Partizan in November 2015 and soon saw Vlahovic in a youth team game against us in our stadium,” he said. “It was obvious from that first match that he was something special. All the scouts from Europe said he was the biggest talent in the world in his position at his age, and we moved quickly to sign him up.
“He is honestly the complete player: he’s fast, tall and strong, but the biggest quality is his mental character. He’s like Cristiano Ronaldo in how much he wants to be the best.
“He improved day by day, staying behind after every training session to do more. In training, in small games, he took everything so seriously, and in in his mind he always just wanted to be better and better, and was obsessed by football.”
Vlahovic once claimed that he would become the new Zlatan Ibrahimovic, which has led some to label him as potentially arrogant or a disruptive influence in the dressing room.
But Iliev totally disagrees with these claims, and insisted: “He’s incredibly confident but outside the pitch he’s a great friend, a great person and is very kind.
“He is so different from what he is on the field, where he is a warrior. He simply has that tough Balkan mentality, and is a strong guy.”
Partizan were eventually reluctantly forced to sell Vlahovic to Fiorentina in 2018 due to their financial position, which is where the Serbian international has become a breakout star.
If recent reports are to be believed, however, Arsenal may well now be the front-runners for the 21-year-old’s signature, with speculation suggesting they are preparing to make a formal £58m bid.
But Iliev had a word of warning for Gunners fans, saying: “A lot of friends in Italy seem to think he is ready to sign for Juventus. He would be fantastic for them, but I don’t know if Fiorentina are prepared to sell yet.
“He would certainly be ready to play in England for Arsenal if that’s what he wants as they are good at developing young players. I have also heard mentions of Tottenham, but maybe they would have to sell Harry Kane to make that happen!”
So, does Vlahovic’s former mentor have any final advice for him?
“Just continue growing, and if you are going to make a move, ensure it is to a club which will give you space to play. He needs to be a starter every week. If that happens, he will be a superstar.”
Vlahovic is certainly a name football fans should get used to hearing a lot more of in the coming years.