At Juventus, Paulo Dybala has gone to hell and back.
The Argentine attacker is still somehow just 26 years old, but the club’s No. 10 has tasted just about every form of failure and success imaginable while wearing black and white. From scoring 60-plus goals in his first three seasons and starting a Champions League final in June 2017 to being a few signatures away from playing in England, there’s nothing he hasn’t seen or felt in his tenure with the Bianconeri.
Now with a new contract in the works, he’s apparently staying in Turin for a long time.
Dybala is Juve’s best and more important player. He’s almost the only player in the club who’s both indisputably in his prime and also decorated with experience. Maurizio Sarri’s team is a mishmash of older world-class or very good players (Cristiano Ronaldo, Giorgio Chiellini, Gonzalo Higuain) and promising starlets who still have ample room to grow (Rodrigo Bentancur, Matthijs de Ligt, Merih Demiral), though the roster definitely skews older.
Dybala is that rare combination of both, and now more than ever the club needs to do whatever it can to structure its acquisitions, coaching decisions, and tactics around La Joya.
A very short history of Paulo Dybala at Juventus
For a moment just think about the insanity that Dybala has experienced over the last three seasons.
In the 2017-18 campaign, Dybala and Higuain were humming. In a season pitted against one of Juve’s most worthy opponents in recent memory (Sarri’s searing Napoli side), Max Allegri’s team, led by Dybala, scored 86 goals, 22 of which were La Joya’s. He scored 26 total. Although the team stumbled in the Champions League thanks to an infamous (for us at least) referee’s decision, they managed to secure the Scudetto as well as the Coppa Italia. At that point many of us were collectively thinking about some moves in the midfield and another very, very threatening Juventus side.
Then, out of nowhere, Ronaldo happened,
In the 2018-19 season, Dybala’s game suffered. As we all witnessed, the chemistry simply did not click between Allegri, Ronaldo, and Dybala — Mad Max couldn’t quite figure out all the elements, and with Higuain jettisoned to Milan and Chelsea, behind CR7’s 28 goals there were Dybala and Mario Mandzukic tied with 10 apiece. It was a bad drop-off for Dybala, and it wasn’t just the numbers. He was frustrated, frequently not starting, and all sorts of out of sorts.
In the summer of 2019, in the waning moments of the transfer window, Dybala came oh-so-close to joining Tottenham Hotspur. But he didn’t.
In 2019-20, Sarri happened, the team looked clunky for long stretches as they tried to get used to an entirely new brand of football, and slowly but surely Dybala rediscovered his form. It wouldn’t quite be precise to call it a “resurrection” under Sarri, as there have still been hiccups along the way, but Dybala is looking more and more like the player so many of us believe he can be.
Warning: this is not a risk-free endeavor
Here, though, is the persistently difficult question that has never really been answered about Dybala, and it’s sort of a two-part question:
- Where on the pitch do you play him? What formation do you use? What freedoms do you give him? What kind of role do you give him?
- If Fabio Paratici were to construct a team around Dybala, what would that look like? What kind of players with what kind of qualities would he be looking for?
We’ve mostly seen Dybala in some sort of free-floating right wing role, but we’ve occasionally seen him as a false 9, we’ve seen him as a second striker, and we’ve seen him as a somewhat more traditional No. 10.
Wherever he ends up playing, we do know that he brings a lot to the table. He’s creative but also has an absolute cannon of a left foot. He can carry the ball and zigzag through players but also pick out a pinpoint pass. There aren’t enough superlatives, but I also remain flummoxed on what the best approach is to continue to let Dybala do stuff like this:
The time has come for the club to love Dybala back
For some insane reason, despite the difficulties, despite strange moments of not seeing much of the pitch, and despite being periodically thrown around as a possible transfer, Paulo Dybala seems to really and truly love Juventus. It’s kind of amazing, frankly. And I think it’s time for the club to love him back, truly and deeply — not just by giving him a new contract with a healthy raise, but by giving him (soon enough) the captain’s armband and the captain’s responsibility, by acquiring players who are suited to bring out the best in the little Argentine.
Cristiano Ronaldo is not the guy for Juventus. He arguably never was. It’s time for everyone in Turin to realize who is.