Paulo Dybala, Juventus’ Crown Jewel

WHEN Alessandro Del Piero hung up his boots after nineteen trophy-laden seasons in Turin, the Juventus faithful were left disillusioned. After all, they had grown accustomed to brilliance from their dominating trequartista, week in, week out. Without Pinturicchio at the club, who would pick up the offensive mantle and, more importantly, who would inspire the millions watching? The arrival of Carlos Tevez from Manchester City was always going to be a temporary fix while handing Paul Pogba the historic number ten was clearly nothing more than a marketing ploy. Juventus did taste success throughout their respective stays at the club, but something was different than in the past. It was like Juventus forgot all about those who previously donned the kit and began handing it out without merit. The Roberto Baggio’s and Michel Platini’s of the world had moved on and were no longer plying their trade in Turin.  

However, with the arrival of Paulo Dybala things have since changed. For the first time since Del Piero’s departure, Juventus finally have a player worthy of replacing him. After initially rejecting the famous kit in 2016 to make a name for himself with his favoured number twenty-one, a move that earned him respect around the fan base, La Joya agreed to don the #10 jersey for the 2017-2018 season. Since then, make no mistake about it: This is now Dybala’s Juventus.

After making a name for himself with his hometown club Instituto de Córdoba, where he scored 17 goals in 40 appearances in Argentina’s second division, Dybala was snapped up by Palermo. The Rosanero’s South American scouting network has always been responsible for recruiting a number of top-notch talents to Italy, however, the Argentine’s arrival was instantly met with incredible hype like none before him. Upon touching down in southern Italy, eccentric Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini instantly labelled him “the new Sergio Agüero.” While it would only take one half of football to realise the comparison couldn’t be more outlandish and was meant to sell papers more than anything else, it spoke volumes of Dybala’s talent.

In his first season with the club, La Joya demonstrated glimpses of his immense talent but largely struggled to make an impact, in what was one of the most uninspiring Palermo teams in recent memory. The following year in Italy’s second division would do him wonders as he solidified his place in Beppe Iachini’s new-look side and was finally starting to get used to life in Italy. Alongside Franco Vázquez, Dybala announced himself to the rest of Serie A with his breakout season in 2014 and was soon on the radar of all the top clubs. Propelling Palermo to a commendable eleventh place, the 24-year-old scored 13 goals and notched a further 10 assists. With most of Italy vying for his signature, Dybala chose Juventus and penned a five-year deal. It would later be announced that the deal would total to around 40 million euros including bonuses, highlighting the type of faith Juve put into the young star.

Coming over to the Turin-based giants as the unfinished project, Juventus’ latest jewel needed polishing. Life in black and white couldn’t have gotten off to a better start for him as he doubled Juventus’ lead on his debut in the Supercoppa against Lazio, helping Allegri’s men to their first title of the season. Going off that impressive cameo appearance, Dybala soon established himself as a starter alongside the ruthless Mario Mandzukic. Together, the duo struck fear into the opposition and played off each other’s differing qualities wonderfully. Whether it was Dybala dropping deep to receive and create something from nothing or the Croatian winning a knock-down header into his teammate’s path, their partnership was lethal and thrived due to their selflessness.

In his first season with the Italian champions, Dybala scored 19 goals and assisted a further nine in 34 Serie A appearances, helping his side to their fifth consecutive Scudetto. While his domestic form inspired awe, his play in the Champions League left a lot to be desired. Considering it was only his first stab at Europe’s elite competition, this was to be expected.

In his second season with Juventus, Dybala continued to steal all the headlines and emerged as the side’s go-to man in the final third. Now, everything flowed through him. With another league title wrapped up, Dybala and co poured all their energy into the Champions League, hoping to break their 20-year drought in the competition. Led by La Joya, Juventus defied all odds and made it to the final, losing out in heart-breaking fashion to Real Madrid. Despite their defeat at the hands of the Spanish giants, Juventus could take solace in the fact that their crown jewel was finally beginning to influence games at the highest level. In the first leg of their quarter-final clash with Barcelona, Dybala netted a goal-scorer’s brace in 22 minutes, putting the tie to bed early. Prior to that, the former Palermo man struggled against top Champions League opposition and drifted in and out of games. While his play against Real Madrid in the final was far from his best, Dybala’s performances throughout the tournament, and in the Barcelona clashes in particular, led many to think Del Piero was, in fact, reincarnated.

In a recent interview with Gazzetta dello Sport, Del Piero spoke about Dybala’s progression since joining Juventus. “The number 10 wasn’t really my property. Before me Baggio, Sivori and Platini had worn it,” said Del Piero. “And now there’s a superstar who has everything to stay at Juve for life, if he wants to. I hope he can find what I did in Turin, because no-one can enter the hearts of the fans like him.” His words, while they may not seem like much taken at face value, highlight one thing pretty clearly: The torch has been passed on from Del Piero to Dybala, like Pinturicchio has never done before.

With the heartbreak of Cardiff etched at the back of his mind, it’s now time for Dybala to atone for the past and finally deliver the holy grail that is the Champions League to Turin. Determined to improve, a quality he has demonstrated throughout his entire career, Dybala needs to become Juventus’ talisman in Europe once and for all. He currently has zero goals to show for this season in the competition but Juventus’ second leg tie against Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur will be as good a time as any to get started. While his most recent injury will make it a race against time, expect Dybala to be firing on all cylinders. With the eyes of the world on him and with Juventus’ famed number ten jersey draped around his welcoming shoulders, it’s time for Dybala to shine. After all, it’s what number tens like him do.

By Gregory Caltabanis with artwork from John Sheehan



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