After an off-season of chopping and changing at Juventus, Paulo Dybala is ready to lead the club into a new era.
Juve may have seen star man Paul Pogba depart to Manchester United for a world-record fee in the build-up to the new Serie A campaign, but the Italian champions have used the transfer window to bolster an already strong squad.
Gonzalo Higuain, Marko Pjaca, Medhi Benatia, Dani Alves and Miralem Pjanic have flocked to Turin, 12 months after Juve brought in a number of Europe’s top talents prior to last season’s success.
From opposite sides of Madrid came Sami Khedira and Mario Mandzukic, while Alex Sandro left Porto, and Simone Zaza and Hernanes were pinched from Serie A rivals.
The first, and most pricey, signing, though, was Palermo’s Dybala. In three seasons at the Stadio La Favorita, he hit double figures just once. However, that was enough to convince Juve and, 12 months later, his hefty €40million price tag might already have been justified.
In his debut campaign at Juventus Stadium, Dybala was involved in 28 league goals – a figure beyond any other Juve player since 2008. His goal tally and minute-to-goal ratio were bettered only by Higuain (among those who netted six or more), and he created more chances – 73 – than any other forward in Serie A.
Aside from his statistical majesty, though, the diminutive forward regularly offered up efforts of aesthetical beauty, with his array of free-kick goals standing out alongside long-range thumps against Sampdoria, Lazio and Sassuolo.
By no means a selfish talent, the Cordoba-born attacker contributed fully to the team’s success, too. As well as winning the league, Massimiliano Allegri’s side took both the Coppa Italia and the Supercoppa Italia. In the final of the latter, his debut against Lazio, Dybala fired the clinching strike.
And Juve have now positioned Dybala to push on again. In Pogba’s absence, he will be expected to take centre stage but Higuain’s arrival dilutes the need for either man to carry his side’s goal threat alone. “The perfect partnership” was how former player Marco Tardelli described the pair, before comparing them favourably to David Trezeguet and Alessandro del Piero.
With other improvements to the squad, too, Allegri’s men now have bigger fish to fry than Serie A; after an unfortunate last-16 exit to Bayern Munich last time out, Italy’s top club are ready to offer another serious tilt for the Champions League title.
In a team capable of threatening any opponents, Dybala will surely shine. Unlike many of the continent’s leading lights, he has enjoyed an off-season of rest. Juve prevented their man from competing at the Olympics, while the 22-year-old was snubbed by Argentina for the Copa America.
Rejuvenated and ready to go again, Dybala will hope to thrive against Juventus’ biggest rivals to the European throne. In league play last season, he scored against both Milan sides and the two Rome clubs, as well as in the crunch continental clash against Bayern. Even at such a young age, he is a big game player.
And yet he is not quite yet a global name. Across Europe this off-season, clubs with cash to burn focused on Pogba, with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini also linked to lucrative deals elsewhere. Considering his sterling season in Turin, Dybala has gone under the radar somewhat.
That has not halted comparisons to Cristiano Ronaldo – “He’s a great player and it would be a pleasure to be like him but being myself is fine,” says Dybala – but it does place him perfectly for a breakthrough campaign.
In a Juventus shirt, he is already hitting form once more, his wand of a left foot opening the scoring against Tottenham in International Champions Cup action.
It comes as little surprise that Dybala is showing no signs of slowing, though, having collected praise from Lionel Messi earlier this year, and then, more recently, hailed by compatriot Javier Zanetti, who sees no end to the Juve man’s potential.
“He’s a star, there’s no doubt about it, he’s a star,” the former Argentina international told La Nacion. “While he was still very young, he showed it at Palermo.
“Then he went to Juventus and immediately took to his role and delivered what was expected of him. Many wondered if he was ready and he showed that he was. He has no ceiling.”
Such has been Dybala’s progression in the past couple of years, no achievements in the coming campaign should shock onlookers. Armed with the support of Pjanic – one of Europe’s top creators – and the brilliant Higuain, this could well be a special year for both player and club.
Beyond that, Messi’s vocal encouragement has previously seen Dybala mentioned as a potential successor in the Argentina ranks. It is a testament to his talents that this does not seem an unreasonable goal.