Tectonic transfers begin like earthquakes — with tremors. Sometimes those rumbles lead to landscape-shifting movements, and sometimes nothing happens at all.
The murmurs started a couple weeks ago when Manchester United’s Paul Pogba wished Juventus’ Paulo Dybala happy birthday. It happened on Instagram, of course, because this is the age of things like that.
A few days later, Paulito apparently spoke to the press — and the rumbles grew more palpable.
"I can't promise I will stay at Juventus forever," Dybala said. "It does not depend on me but I don't even want to say that this will be my last season here. I want to win everything now, football is strange you never really know what will happen in the future."
I confess I’m less interested in the murmurs and more interested in the hypothetical earthquake: What if Juventus were to lose Paulo Dybala?
A number of consequences — real or imagined, concrete or vague, invariably interconnected, and of varying importance — immediately present themselves if the little Argentine were to leave, which from this point forward, for conjecture’s sake, this article is assuming.
1. Juventus cannot (or does not care to) retain its stars.
In soccer, contracts are as casual as Tinder connections. And in a sport known for its acquiescence to the whims of players, Juventus director general Giuseppe Marotta is famously among the most compliant. If a player wants to leave Turin, and Marotta finds a suitable offer, then the player leaves Juve. It’s as simple as that, really.
It’s a logical strategy to some degree, in the sense that it ostensibly cultivates a player-friendly and, to some extent, player-created environment, and the method would also hopefully only retain players who buy into the given system. Of course, Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci come to mind.
Maybe those guys were “bad eggs,” as it were. Maybe they were bad for the locker room. Maybe they needed to go. That all may be true, but it’s equally true that Juventus has not found a suitable replacement for either Alves or Bonucci.
Therein lies one downside.
The riding — and dangerously large — assumption of the Marotta Method is that an equal and suitable replacement can be immediately found. There is also the underlying possibility that the “for the players, by the players” atmosphere is really a specious claim covering up a for-profit mode. Juve is, after all, a business, and certainly “suitable offer” finds its suitability in the profitability of any given move. Savvy as he appears to be, Marotta is not, of course, a man of perfect deals.
2. Or this: Stars no longer want to remain at Juventus for the long term.
Since the turn of the millennium, Juve has a pretty good track record of keeping its best players around. I’m speaking here, of course, of Gianluigi Buffon, but also of the others who stayed with the club through the Serie B banishment and, more recently, long-tenured players like Giorgio Chiellini and Claudio Marchisio.
Still, though, the past three summers have seen stars leave Turin consistently: Alves and Bonucci this year, as mentioned; Paul Pogba in 2016; Arturo Vidal in 2015. If Dybala follows suit in 2018, that’d be alarming.
This point is difficult to flesh out because in the end there’s no real way to know a player’s motivations. Why do players stay at Juve? Why do they leave? Old-timers like to decry the current trends of Tinder-esque football contracts, alleging that traits like loyalty to club have finally bitten the dust. I’m not sure if that’s true or not, but it’s something you hear.
All of which is to say this: It would be bad for Juventus if stars no longer wanted to stay at Juventus. If Dybala leaves in a year in which Juventus underperforms in the Champions League and simultaneously doesn’t win Serie A, the current crop will be tested.
3. The good news: Perhaps a host tactical problems have been solved.
Here’s a lukewarm take, because I’ve read it in places and it seems intuitively possible: With Dybala gone, Juve actually has a lot of problems solved.
First of all, they’d have an immense cash injection into their bank account — at this point, it’s got to be at least €150 million, right? — to address personnel needs. Juve need a right back, probably a center back, and probably a world-class midfielder.
Secondly, for everything he does, Dybala remains a bit of a tactical conundrum. He doesn’t look 100 percent natural as a right winger or attacking midfielder, and it’s been quite a while since he’s lined up as a center forward or striker. I suspect that’s where he’d shine brightest — à la Sergio Aguero — but that’s not going to happen with Gonzalo Higuain on the squad.
Getting rid of Dybala means Juventus could move pretty seamlessly to a 4-3-3, or a 3-4-3, or something in which the midfield and defense aren’t quite as brittle as they have been against top competition.
With the money, Juve goes and gets Leon Goretzka or Sergej Milinkovic-Savic, a world-beater at right back, and an actual Bonucci/Chiellini replacement. That leaves a lot of depth at striker, on the wing, and in midfield.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
4. After this summer, Juventus is an Old Lady without a face.
This is where the situation gets grim, at least in terms of morale.
Buffon is the undisputed emblem of Juventus, a talisman who represents that very trait — loyalty — that some claim is a forgotten virtue. Buffon is also turning 40 years old in January and hanging up the Juve shirt in June. When he leaves, the organization will need a face, a point of reference around which to create.
Barcelona have Lionel Messi. Real Madrid have Cristiano Ronaldo. Paris Saint-Germain have Neymar. Bayern Munich have so many possible franchise faces it’s unfair, but Manuel Neuer or Robert Lewandowski come to mind. If Dybala leaves Juve, what would be the message? Without Buffon, with another No. 10 out the door, who takes center stage? Could Gonzalo Higuain, who turns 30 on Dec. 10 and who probably has two and a half or three seasons left of elite ability, be that player?
I think Dybala is very good, that he’s an extraordinary player who, if or when he puts all the pieces together will indeed vie for the Ballon d’Or. And even if you gave me a world-class midfielder, center back, and right back in exchange for La Joya, I’m not sure I’d take it.