Arsenal target Dusan Vlahovic idolises Ibrahimovic, had an angry exchange with Ronaldo, and made his debut aged just 16

NOT since Gabriel Batistuta have Fiorentina boasted a No9 that has terrorised Serie A defences so menacingly as Dusan Vlahovic has in the past year.

The Serbian striker has already scored 18 goals in 20 games in all competitions this campaign, after netting 21 last season.

His red-hot form has attracted Europe's top sides, with Arsenal and Manchester City credited with an interest in the 21-year-old.

it's reportedly the Gunners who lead the race, with the North London giants prepared to shatter their transfer record to land the 6ft 3in forward.

Vlahovic's football story began aged 15, when he became Partizan Belgrade's youngest ever player.

He idolises Sweden legend Zlatan Ibrahimovic, sharing a similar air of arrogance on the pitch.

While, the talent also had an angry exchange with Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo on international duty.

Teen superstar

Before he was idolised in Florence, Vlahovic was turning heads in his homeland.

In 2014, he joined Partizan after bouncing around clubs including OFK Beograd and Red Star Belgrade.

A year later, he signed his first pro contract aged just 15 as youth coaches saw a generational potential.

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By 2016, he was handed the club's No9 jersey by then Partizan manager Ivan Tomic who believed he had the potential to be a "monster" of a player.

Zarko Lazetic, a former Partizan assistant manager, told Sky Sports: "After one or two training sessions, our head coach, Ivan Tomic, said, 'This guy is a monster, this is a player who will be worth 100 million euros one day,' because he showed unbelievable character."

Records were soon broken – he became the club's youngest ever debutant, eclipsed Luka Jovic as youngest star to play in a Belgrade derby, then Partizan's youngest ever scorer.

At that point, he was already on Arsenal's radar, with Anderlecht and Juventus also keeping tabs on Vlahovic.

But it was with the help of a team mate he would get his dream move to Italy.

Signed agreement

Vlahovic's strike partner at Partizan was Bulgaria legend Valeri Bojinov, who starred in Serie A for Lecce, Fiorentina, Juventus, Parma and more.

So struck by the youngster's ability, Bojinov immediately jumped on the phone to La Viola sporting director Pantaleo Corvino.

"I told Corvino to sign Vlahovic when he was 15 or 16," Bojinov revealed to Football Italia.

"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."

Taking up Bojinov on his tip, Fiorentina had nothing to lose.

A pre-contract agreement was signed with the 17-year-old, who moved to Italy when he was 18 for a fee of around £2million.

Strength to strength

It didn't take long for Vlahovic to endear himself to the Fiorentina faithful.

He announced himself with a double against Monza in the Coppa Italia in 2019 in a 3-1 win.

The following season, he went from impact player to leading the line at the Stadio Artemio Franchi.

Goals followed. 33 in calendar year in Serie A for 2021, equalling a Cristiano Ronaldo record set in 2020.

Vlahovic also joined Erling Haaland as one of just four players born since 2000 to score at least 20 goals in Europe’s top-five leagues back in April.

A model professional, as his star rose so did interest in his love-life.

Italian media linked him with 18-year-old actress Mariasolle Pollio, although neither confirmed a romance.

But back on the pitch, Vlahovic was already becoming a regular for his country.

National team recognition

With a little help from the lethal marksman, Serbia qualified for Qatar 2022.

Forming a formidable partnership with Aleksandar Mitrovic, Vlahovic proved to be a major threat in their World Cup qualifying campaign.

Defeating Portugal in the final game sealed the deal, although Ronaldo wasn't happy as his country were forced into the playoffs.

After the game, Vlahovic attempted to approach a disappointed Ronaldo as they trotted off the pitch.

However, their conversation appeared animated – with the Manchester United man seemingly annoyed.

Ronaldo was STILL annoyed about a contentious decision in the first game between the countries in Belgrade.

Explaining the moment, Vlahovic revealed: "My Dad always told me, after every game, whether you win or lose, go to talk to you opponents, shake hands with everyone and the referee. I still do today.

"So, I went to him and at that moment, understandably, he was very agitated and angry.

"The only thing he said to me, as is well known, was that the goal in Belgrade had to stand and that perhaps this reversed everything.

"I wished them good luck in the play-offs and told them they will go through, because they have one of the best players in the world."

As do Serbia in Vlahovic, who could well be terrorising a Premier League defence in the near future.

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