Perhaps those apologetic hands had a deeper meaning when Dusan Vlahovic scored his 49th and final Fiorentina goal. Did he know, deep down, that his strike in a 6-0 rout over Genoa would be his last for La Viola at the Artemio Franchi; a cauldron in which he was worshipped like so many of his predecessors.
The City of Lillies had produced and nurtured yet another artist, only Vlahovic wasn’t the sculptor nor the creator, but the finisher. His job wasn’t to imagine or construct, but to deliver the finishing touch instead. For some, Vlahovic was well on his way to becoming Fiorentina’s next Batigol before the Old Lady came calling.
Juventus were seemingly in no position to broker a deal for the highly-regarded forward in January, but fear over potentially not securing a top-four finish this season forced the club’s hierarchy into action. Vlahovic had rejected a move to the Premier League to stay in Florence, but Juve’s proposal was one he couldn’t turn down.
The Serb’s exit to Turin was yet another sickening blow for the Fiorentina ultras. The Old Lady have been the subject of strong resentment from La Viola ever since Juve controversially won the Scudetto at Fiorentina’s expense in 1982. Since then, the fortunes of both clubs have deviated wildly and the decisions of Viola stars to make the switch from the Renaissance homeland to Piedmont has only fuelled the bitterness of supporters.
50 were injured in riots after Roberto Baggio made the move, supposedly against his will, in 1990 before Federico Bernardeschi was subject to boundless abuse when he returned to the Franchi in 2017.
Thus, the reaction of the Fiorentina ultras wasn’t exactly a shock when they heard the news of Vlahovic’s January “betrayal”. They threatened his life and racially abused the then 21-year-old. A more appropriate banner read: “Goals are not enough to earn respect.”
Dusan Vlahovic’s return to Florence will be the toughest test of his career so far
On Wednesday, Vlahovic will set foot in Florence for the first time since leaving the club. Life has started sweetly for the majestic forward in Turin, and his form will be key in ensuring Juventus progress into the Coppa Italia final at his former club’s expense.
The Serb will be brimming with confidence following a week in which he made Champions League history and notched his maiden Bianconeri brace. Wednesday’s clash, however, will be a monumental test for Vlahovic; perhaps the toughest of his sparkling young career thus far.
The Franchi will be rocking for this one. Fiorentina’s hatred for Juventus has been ignited and exacerbated over various points in the past 40 years, and such anger is currently rife in the City of Lillies. Leading Fiorentina ultra Federico De Sinopoli has already said that “silence isn’t really an option” after supporters were encouraged by the club to avoid using racist abuse to slander Vlahovic.
“An entire city felt betrayed by Vlahovic, the same way we were in the past,” De Sinopoli told Radio Punto Nuovo ahead of Wednesday’s first leg (via Football Italia). He accused Vlahovic of failing to absorb the “Viola identity” and added that the crowd will do their utmost to “psychologically knock down Juventus”.
It’ll be a huge test of Vlahovic’s mettle, that’s for sure. So far, the 22-year-old has displayed an indefatigable mindset that perfectly aligns with the core principles of the Bianconeri, but this is poised to be an unprecedented experience for the young forward – even if he knew it would come someday.
Not only will the deep-lying resentment held within the Fiorentina ultras project through hostility, but their vivaciousness will only spur on a determined set of players keen to make life miserable for their former teammate. While Vincenzo Italiano is undoubtedly one of Italy’s brightest young coaches with La Viola capable of producing some scintillating sequences of attacking virtuosity, there’s a hint of Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid about this Fiorentina side. They love a dark art or two and no team has received more red cards in Serie A this season than them (eight).
This one-sided rivalry has shifted to a new paradigm following Vlahovic’s departure and Wednesday will be Fiorentina’s first opportunity to one-up the striker they once revered. The Franchi’s set to be raucous for the Serb’s return, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the ‘enemy’ bring about a cacophony of silence by the end of the night.