Paulo Dybala 20 Forward Palermo Argentina
2013 has been…
A setback for a talented player. Life at Palermo is never going to be straightforward. The famous pink shirt comes with turmoil and strife as standard, rarely more so than this year. The protagonist in the Rosanero’s tale of mayhem, owner Maurizio Zamparini, piled the pressure on teenage Argentine Paulo Dybala when he prematurely announced his signing last spring. Being labeled “the new Sergio Aguero” by one’s new boss is some burden.
The Cordoba-born Instituto graduate did join the Sicily club last summer, having played only a season’s worth of league games in Argentina, but the fact that he has a long way to go to fulfill his enormous potential came through loud and clear. He scored his first and second goals for Palermo in a stellar performance against Sampdoria last November, a rare detour onto the scoresheet for a player who needs time to settle into his new surroundings.
Despite putting together improved form in the latter part of last season, the Rosanero were relegated from Serie A and see Dybala as one of the keys to making an immediate return. According to short-term Palermo coach Gian Piero Gasperini ‘The Jewel’ was hampered early on by his similarities with Fabrizio Miccoli.
Now, he has to be capable of playing a creative role and pulling the strings in Serie B. The question is whether Dybala, in maturing this season in terms of influence despite rarely playing in his preferred position, is losing a bit of the verve and fearlessness that made him a genuine livewire when he burst onto the scene in Argentina.
His versatility is both friend and foe but his characteristics are consistent whether he plays in the hole, in the channels or as a de facto striker. He has good speed, sound awareness of space and solid passing ability, but his quick feet and bag of tricks are where his quality really tells. Above all that, he is blessed with genuinely top-class balance.
He never lets defenders have a moment’s peace on the ball either, and his hard work makes him a valuable player in Giuseppe Lachini’s side. He showed in Argentina that he’s a tidy all-round finisher with a reliable poacher’s instinct. He never backs down from trying to beat a defender and has all the ability to back up those balls.
And yet the goals just haven’t followed. The tricks and dribbling are harder to pull off in Italy and he’s generally susceptible to a physical opponent. Dybala’s finishing perhaps isn’t as instinctive as he made it look in Cordoba. Nevertheless, this isn’t a signing that didn’t come off. His potential is clear, and, as he adapts to a new league, a new team and huge expectations, he’ll find his feet. Woe betide the defenders who get in his way once he does.
2014 will be a defining year for Dybala. Zamparini won’t let him go cheaply and almost certainly not in January for almost any price, what with him being the Palermo chief’s new prized asset, but the interest will be there. Manchester City, Real Madrid and both Milan clubs were reportedly interested in him before he was snapped up by the Rosanero and an even wider range of clubs will have been alerted by Palermo’s weakened bargaining position as a Serie B club.
Sooner or later Dybala will move for a hefty fee and next summer seems the likeliest time for him do so, but his international prospects are even more intriguing.
He has never represented Argentina at any level. He was called up for the Under-17s but didn’t play, and chose to decline an Under-20 call-up last July. His representation choice remains up in the air but Dybala, whose grandfather was Polish, has been on the Polish FA’s radar since he was 17. Now the best part of 18 months into a career in Italy, a future with the Azzurri could also be on the cards.
Whichever choices Dybala makes in the next twelve months, he’s going to be a man in demand at both club and country level. We can’t help but feeling that whichever teams have a new jewel come August 2014 could be very fortunate indeed.
"Hasn't looked anything special in Serie B at all. Clearly not the new Sergio Agüero so far then." - Jeff Livingstone, IBWM
"Paulo Dybala managed to get 44% of his shots on target last season in Serie A; just better than the league average (43%)." - Opta
C- Relegation and a lack of goals, but the positives will follow