A left-footed, pacey, technical Argentinian who plays in a free role rather than as a traditional striker. Sound familiar? It should, because the comparisons between Paulo Dybala and Lionel Messi are commonplace, and more and more Dybala is looking like he really could reach a level near that of his legendary Argentinian teammate.
Proving his worth at Juventus
Dybala, known as ‘La Joya’ (The Jewel), joined his current club Juventus from Palermo in 2015 for a fee of €40 million. At the time a lot of people wondered whether the Bianconeri had overpaid for the young Argentinian, but Dybala quickly justified his price tag. Having taken the number 21 shirt, previously worn by the celebrated Andrea Pirlo, Dybala had a lot to prove, but he ended the 2015/16 season with 23 goals in all competitions. 19 of these goals came in the Serie A and ‘La Joya’ also added nine assists as Juventus clinched the league title by nine points.
In the following season Dybala turned down the fabled number 10 shirt, which was available after the departure of Paul Pogba to Manchester United. Dybala struggled in the league compared to his previous season, and yet he scored against Porto in the Round of 16 and twice against Barcelona in the Quarterfinals of a Champions League campaign that only ended with defeat to Real Madrid in the final. Juventus once again won Serie A and Dybala still managed to contribute 11 goals and seven assists to the cause.
The Argentine’s efforts saw him finish in sixth place in the voting for the 2017 UEFA Best Player of the Year Award, and the footballing world started to fully acknowledge the brilliance of the 23-year old. When Neymar left Barcelona in the summer Dybala was amongst those heavily linked with a move to the Catalan club, and it is certainly possible to argue that the move would have happened had Lionel Messi not been at the club.
Messi and Dybala are very similar players and it is difficult to fit them both into a team successfully, as has been the frustration for the coaching staff of the Argentinian national team. The Barcelona board perhaps thought the same way, but their interest was at least proof that Dybala is on the radar of every big club in world football, and indeed is already on the books of one of the biggest.
From strength to strength
With more eyes watching him than ever before the youngster needed to make another step up, and he has certainly done that so far this season. Dybala has scored 10 goals in his opening six Serie A games, including two hat-tricks and a brace in the Turin derby. To put that into perspective it’s a goal every 47 minutes, and he is now the favourite to finish as Serie A’s top scorer this season. His goals have helped Juve to a 100% record to start the season and the Bianconeri sit second in the table, behind Napoli on goal difference.
It was the match against Genoa at the end of August that really exemplified the step up that Dybala has taken, and how much he has clearly learned from Lionel Messi. Juventus found themselves 2-0 down after just seven minutes at the Stadio Luigi Ferraris and it took a master class from the young Argentinian to rescue his side. In the 14th minute Dybala finished off a brilliant team move which immediately put Juve back in the game, and he fired a 45th minute penalty into the top corner to bring the game level. It was Juan Cuadrado who gave the Old Lady the lead, but Dybala completed his hat-trick in stoppage time with a near-post shot past Mattia Perin.
The three goals that Dybala scored in this game were impressive, but it was the level of his general performance that was so remarkable. This was a game that the Argentinian utterly dominated; controlling the tempo and flow of the game in his free-roaming role to such an extent that Genoa didn’t stand a chance. I have only seen Lionel Messi conduct his team’s every attacking movement in such a way as this, and it is the sort of performance you hear about when being told stories of players like Johan Cruyff and Alfredo Di Stéfano.
Dybala will always be in Messi’s shadow, even when the Barcelona legend retires, and almost every world-class player of the next few generations will have their ability compared to that of Messi. Most, if not all, will fall short by comparison, but Dybala is certainly worthy of comparison.
The next step?
One of the key factors that contributes to Messi’s lasting legacy however is his trophy collection. Dybala’s Argentinean elder has eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues and five Ballon d’Ors to his name, and it’s no secret that trophies help players carve their names into the annals of history.
Thus far Dybala has won two Serie A titles with Juventus, and narrowly missed out on a Champions League winner’s medal last season. At just 23 years old there is plenty of time for La Joya to add some more silverware to his collection, but he will need Champions League titles and Ballon d’Or wins if he wants to be considered alongside the likes of Messi.
There is no doubt that Paulo Dybala has the talent to be one of the world’s best, and perhaps this will be the season to go one better in the Champions League and jumpstart his Ballon d’Or quest.
Will Paulo Dybala have a Ballon d’Or-winning career? Have your say in the comments.
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