22 Striker Juventus Argentina
Argentine forward Paulo Dybala joined Palermo from his hometown club, Instituto de Cordoba, in 2012 and he’s been happily floating in the deep end ever since. He quickly became a regular in Sicily and established himself as a highly-rated prospect even in a team that was relegated from Serie A. He helped them bounce straight back and took to the top flight in 2014/15 like he’d never been away.
2015 has been…
A career-defining year. Dybala has settled his two big early-career choices: which big European club to join and which national team to represent. More of that later.
2015 began in the pink of Palermo and Dybala ended 2014/15 with 13 Serie A goals, although just a few of them were scored after the turn of the year, the rump of the tally coming in a fabulous run of games in the winter. Nevertheless, his departure from the club was inevitable. While reports about new contract talks did emerge in January, the list of clubs supposedly interested in Dybala this year makes remarkable reading.
In May he made his move and it was a short hop onto the peninsula and north to Turin. His five-year deal at another club hasn’t dissuaded Maurizio Zamparini from commenting on his progress, of course, and, as early as August, the Palermo chief accused the Old Lady of misusing “the new Messi”. Dybala doesn’t need a cheerleader; he’s improved massively in the last two years.
He’s grown more capable of composure in the box and assured finishing, and he’s always been blessed with some phenomenal footwork and a great awareness to spot opportunities. He just glides into space in the box, using his deceptive upper body strength to give him an extra advantage.
He plays a slightly different role for Juve, sitting off Alvaro Morata in the same way as Franco Vazquez used to sit off him in turn. He occupies a space that little bit deeper and that will come to be a better use of his best assets than playing him as an out-and-out frontman. He makes some lovely runs in behind the defence and boasts a superb awareness of the game and the spaces around him. His link play is excellent and he rarely lets himself get isolated.
There are some aspects of Dybala’s game that are still a little rough around the edges. He can drift out of games and struggle a little with focused marking. Sometimes he’ll take on a shot that’s far too ambitious and his final ball delivery to others isn’t quite as polished as it might be, despite his being one of Juve’s set piece specialists in the post-Pirlo era.
But this is a player who’ll try anything, an infectious livewire forward with sensational feet, great imagination and a bit of pace. He’s got genius in his future but in these high expectations, and a transfer fee to match, lies a more pressing challenge.
He has work to do in the blue and white of Argentina too. He made his bow this year after long maintaining a preference for Argentina over Italy and Poland, coming on as a late substitute against Paraguay in a World Cup qualifier in October.
Back in January Dybala reiterated that it would be a dream to play for Argentina, and in particular with Lionel Messi. In 2016 and beyond he must turn that dream, now briefly realised, into his reality.
B Embracing the challenge
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