An awful lot of players have been lauded as the ‘New Messi’, but Paulo Dybala at Juventus looks like the real deal for club and country
“He will become like Messi,” was the headline in the Corriere dello Sport just over a year ago after Paulo Dybala had orchestrated a resounding victory over Udinese and sent Juventus on course for their fifth consecutive Serie A title.
With a devilishly whipped free kick courtesy of his wand-like left foot, an emphatically struck penalty and a couple of assists it was easy to draw the comparisons.
A year later, Dybala shows no signs of letting up and Juve are now in pole position for a sixth-straight scudetto.
His seven goals and four assists are not staggering numbers but the effortless manner in which the 23-year-old drifts past defenders, his vision to slice open the opposition with a pass and his accurate left foot cause reason for genuine excitement among Argentina and Juventus supporters.
Dybala’s momentum has gradually been building after an initial slow start in Turin and there is now a clamour for Edgardo Bauza to unleash Argentina’s crown prince alongside King Messi.
Barcelona and Real Madrid are linked with mega-money moves as the football world sees the potential – since Kaka won the Ballon d’Or in 2007, Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have sat unrivaled at the top of the tree but Dybala is a prime contender to eventually end that streak.
Not bad for a kid from Laguna Larga, who modestly said when Juventus paid Palermo a fee that could rise to €40 million: “Not many players are worth that much and I’m certainly not among them.”
The debate of whether Juve overpaid has been well and truly quashed as Dybala’s valuation has skyrocketed and it has now shifted to just how far the Argentinian can go.
Since bursting into the first team of his hometown club, Instituto at seventeen, scoring 17 goals in only 40 appearances and breaking Mario Kempes’ club record as the youngest goal scorer it was clear that Dybala was special.
His goal scoring accomplishments persuaded Palermo to invest heavily and although outspoken president Maurizio Zamparini forever spoke about Dybala in the same breath as the game’s greats, Palermo and their young forward struggled for consistency. There were flashes of unquestionable brilliance but producing this regularly was the big step.
Zamparini claimed Dybala, “is going to be better than Cristiano Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi and [Zlatan] Ibrahimovic,” all the while insisting that La Joya was worth at least €40 million.
Did the often maniacal Zamparini think this or was he simply ramping up the price? Either way Juve took the bait in the summer of 2015.
Dybala himself thought the price tag was too much and when Massimiliano Allegri opted to use the youngster sparingly and the Bianconeri fell to four defeats in the opening ten matches of the season, he responded to criticism by saying, “it’s not my fault if the club paid €40 million.”
Replacing Carlos Tevez was never likely to be easy – El Apache arrived in Turin, a 29-year-old Copa Libertadores, three-time Premier League and Champions League winner, at the peak of his powers; Dybala, more potential than finished article.
Zamparini was up in arms with Juventus not making the most of their signing and said, “Allegri is on track to ruin Dybala. Dybala is football, but Allegri is not. Dybala should be given freedom to roam from the right wing and do his own thing, just like Lionel Messi.”
When Allegri did finally put faith in Dybala the results were breathtaking. After a defeat to Sassuolo at the end of October, Juve went on a new league record winning streak and, despite allowing a head start, cruised to the title.
Nineteen goals and nine assists from 29 Serie A appearances highlight the two aspects of Dybala’s game: goalscorer and creator in almost equal measure.
Dropping deep to pick up the ball and link play there was that similarity with the man he replaced, Carlos Tevez, but while the latter brings immense physicality and an unerring desire to win, Dybala exhibits a grace and precision that Tevez lacks.
A league and cup double secured from his debut season, Dybala is now firmly one of Juventus’ go-to players and roaming freely behind Gonzalo Higuain this season, the 23-year-old’s stock only continues to rise.
The Bianconeri sit even points clear of Roma, Higuain reaping the rewards as the league’s leading scorer and Dybala with a handy seven goals and four assists.
Edgardo Bauza would be wise to try and make the most of this combination in Argentina’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers with both players in spectacular form.
Last weekend, Dybala dismantled former club Palermo and Zamparini reminded the world of his claim: “We are talking about the new Messi. He will become a player like Messi and he is already at that level. I have been saying that he is destined to become a star ever since he arrived at Palermo.”
Zamparini might be misguided on a number of other subjects but he is being proved absolutely right about La Joya.