It was right around this time last year that Paulo Dybala officially tested positive for the coronavirus. Just a few short weeks before that, Dybala was making Ashley Young look like a complete fool and played a starring role as he helped lead Juventus to an impressive 2-0 win over Inter Milan at the Allianz Stadium, the last game the club played before lockdown in Italy meant we would go a few months without any kind of football whatsoever.
A lot has happened over the course of these last 12 months.
The thing is, though, not a lot of it has actually come on the field.
A decent portion of the lockdown was spent talking about the contract negotiations between Dybala’s representatives and Juventus’ front office. There was chatter, a whole lot of chatter, about Dybala getting closer and closer to agreeing to terms on a new deal. Twelve months later, we are still talking about the contract extension that Dybala still hasn’t signed, as he now heads into the summer of 2021 with a deal that has all of one season left on it and a future in Turin that is anything but certain. Again. Just like we’ve heard last summer. Just like we heard two summers ago. Just like we’ve basically heard ever since Juve turned down a mega-offer from Barcelona 3 1⁄2 years ago.
Essentially, this is what pops into my mind when it comes to Dybala’s situation:
- He’s going to sign the long-awaited contract extension once and for all.
- He’s going to be sold while he still has a year left on his current contract.
There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground in this. There’s not going to be a situation where we see Dybala entering the final year of his contract at Juventus and his future at the club still unknown beyond the summer of 2022. That’s a terrible spot to be in as a player of Dybala’s quality, but it’s even worse for Juventus considering they run the serious risk of one of their most valuable assets signing somewhere else on a free.
By all accounts, Dybala still wants to be at Juventus, with his injury situation being the thing that clearly has him frustrated as he tries to come back to contribute in some kind of capacity after the current international break. He’s essentially said as much on social media a few days ago, which have basically confirmed reports that came out last week. But for every thought that Dybala wants to stay despite the ongoing contract standoff, there are comments like these from Juve VP Pavel Nedved earlier this week:
“His presence would give us more options upfront. He has one year left in his contract and I have nothing to add to what Paratici and Agnelli already said. Juventus will evaluate every opportunity in the market.”
I know that with how the Juve front office is perceived right now — and, honestly, the last few years — that taking comments about the club’s future at face value doesn’t always work out in the best way for anybody trying to figure out what’s happening. (Just ask Maurizio Sarri about that one after management backed him for weeks prior to his dismissal last summer.) But, with all that said, there is one glaring thing about Nedved’s statement above about Dybala: it is far from a commitment to Dybala beyond the last two months of the 2020-21 season. Far, far from it — and it’s out there for everybody to see.
We’ve flirted with the prospect of Dybala leaving before. We’ve seen him come close two summers ago when he nearly signed with Manchester United and then Tottenham before Dybala himself essentially put the kibosh on both of those transfers due to his contract demands. That was the kind of move where Juve were very much trying to sell him and get as much as they could back in either straight cash or another big-money asset. But this situation is different because Juventus, the club itself, is as much at a crossroads as much as the handsome Argentine is himself.
Does selling Dybala, after all of the health issues he’s had this season and his market value taking a serious hit in a pandemic-altered market, seem like a great idea? Of course not. Don’t forget about the kinds of figures that were being thrown out there when Dybala was involved in a proposed swap deal for Romelu Lukaku or what Tottenham was offering two summers ago. (And that Barcelona offer in 2017.)
But Juventus’ finances are an absolute mess because of the pandemic and their bloated payroll, one that is more than double that of any other Serie A team. They’re staring a €113.7 million deficit from the first half of the 2020-21 fiscal year right in the face, and have made it pretty much known that something might have to happen as a result of the club’s current financial shortcomings. And if they miss out on Champions League play next season ... oh boy.
Dybala potentially leaving Juventus this summer is real. The contract dispute that has essentially lasted an entire year is still a thing. (Don’t you miss last April when we ran a story about Dybala actually agreeing to a new deal? Or how the only thing standing behind Dybala and a new contract was the travel restrictions from South America to Italy last summer? Those were the days, man.) The club is in desperate need of money and Dybala is a player that, despite all of his troubles staying healthy this season, is still just 27 years old and can bring in a nice chunk of change if he heads out, depressed market and all.
There are a lot of choices that Juve has to make this summer even before they get to Dybala’s status at the club. But Dybala also has to make a choice, too: Is his love for the club he’s been at for nearly six years enough to make up for the contract offer not totally being up to what he wants?
But if he’s on the market like Nedved’s comments essentially elude to, then maybe thinking a contract extension agreement will actually happen just isn’t the right way to go about it.