Pressure, boos and racist taunts: Vlahovic’s infernal return to Florence

by | Mar 3, 2022 10:23

Fiorentina fans didn’t entirely follow the club’s request to avoid racist chants against Juventus and Dusan Vlahovic felt mixed emotions on his return at the Artemio Franchi, writes Lorenzo Bettoni.

I can still hear the whistles in my ears this morning. The noise of the Artemio Franchi crowd only switched off when Lorenzo Venuti accidentally put the ball past Pietro Terracciano with 30 seconds remaining. And luckily, Dusan Vlahovic didn’t have many touches of the ball.

Everyone was waiting for him. Fiorentina fans had arrived at the stadium with 10,000 whistles to put pressure on their former star and tell him that he was no longer welcomed in Florence. Vlahovic, on the other hand, held his head high, from the start of the warm-up until the end of the match.

Fiorentina had asked their fans to avoid racist chants during the match, a suggestion which wasn’t entirely followed as the Curva Fiesole shouted ‘gipsy’ to their ex-idol twice, at the beginning and at the end of the game. It wasn’t an easy match for the 22-year-old. As much as he tried to remain calm, he had left the Franchi barely more than a month ago. He was facing several familiar faces. Fans and players who knew him well.

Vlahovic brought all the attention to him from the very early stages. He made sure that Fiorentina fans vented all their hate at the end of the warm-up when he was the last outfield player to leave the pitch after a round of free kicks. As soon as he bagged the last one, he ran towards the dressing rooms amid whistles from the 33,000 fans at the stadium. The atmosphere was incredible. A thrilling, astonishing reception made even more special by the choreography of Fiorentina fans quoting Dante’s Inferno and only ruined by the racist remarks. All the focus was on Vlahovic.

He felt all the eyes on him throughout the game, but it was a forgotten Fiorentina ‘traitor’ who was decisive as Juan Cuadrado put a cross in and Lorenzo Venuti found himself on the ball’s way, which slowly and cruelly crossed the line.

As soon as Venuti put the ball inside the net, the stadium almost imploded. The infernal noise of 10,000 whistles and 33,000 fans suddenly stopped. Fans looked at each other in disbelief. Venuti was even struggling to stand still. He broke into tears and that’s exactly when Vlahovic proved that, down deep, he cared more than what he wanted to show.

A few weeks ago, after Juventus’ win against Sassuolo in the quarter-finals, he said that the match against Fiorentina would have been a game like any other. Probably he never really thought so. The Serbia international rushed to comfort his former teammate when the match finished. He embraced him, but it was impossible to cheer him up.

Video: Venuti in tears after last-gasp own goal against Juve, Vlahovic comforts him

It wasn’t an easy game for Vlahovic. He didn’t have many chances and although he managed more than Romeu Lukaku’s infamous seven touches, he had just one shot on target, which was also the best chance for Juventus. Vlahovic is though a champion in the making. He played with pride against his ex-teammates, who managed to nullify him. It was not enough for La Viola to win the game, but it was another essential step in the striker’s development. A necessary one.

Every superstar faces similar atmospheres in big games. Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have experienced the same endless times in their careers. Zlatan Ibrahimovic once said that boos ‘charge’ him and Vlahovic, who dreams of following in the Swede’s footsteps, experienced first-hand what kind of pressure he’ll have to handle if he wants to be one of the big names of the game in the next decade.


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