There’s a very reasonable argument to be made that Paulo Dybala’s imminent departure from Juventus — one that was speculated on for months but finally confirmed Monday — is a good move for both parties.
With the recent blockbuster signings of Dusan Vlahovic, Matthijs de Ligt, Federico Chiesa and Manuel Locatelli, coupled with the disappointing results on the field — both domestically and continentally — Juventus is signaling a desire to begin a new cycle with younger players. And it is a renewal that is desperately needed as well, as the club finds itself in a bit of a no man’s land in terms of talent, age squad and their wage bill. Not quite a young, up and comer team but not quite one past their prime looking for one last shot.
Dybala, as talented as we all know he can be, has struggled with persistently nagging injuries the past couple of seasons — a worrying sign for a player who’s technically supposed to be in his prime. And, on top of the injuries, he has struggled to fit in tactically for a team that has had a shifting identity both on and off the field and four managers over the last four seasons.
Making him one of the highest paid players on the squad — more than he already is — would have been a risky investment. There was a very real scenario in which Dybala’s muscle injury problems that he has dealt with the last two or three seasons never quite improve and you are stuck with a very talented but injury prone and overpaid player that’s not too far away from being 30 years old.
After giving long-term deals on high salaries to guys that fit the above description like Sami Khedira, Douglas Costa and — gulp — Aaron Ramsey, it is not unreasonable to balk at Dybala’s reported salary demands. They know a thing or two about having financial albatrosses on their books and that has not gone well recently for Andrea Agnelli and Co.
Because of it, Dybala will now enter a free-agent market in which his services will be highly sought after, both in Italy and across the rest of Europe. He will most likely find a club willing to match his price, and my bet is that it won’t take too long. Clubs will always bet on talent and La Joya has heaps of it. After all, he leaves Juventus as one of the 10 most prolific strikers to ever wear the black and white jersey.
(He’s currently tied for 10th with Federico Munerati at 113 goals, but can end his Juve career as the ninth-highest goal scorer given he’s only three away from overtaking Roberto Baggio. With nine games — potentially 10 if they make the Coppa Italia final — left, he’s a good bet to surpass Il Divin Codino for ninth place.)
Losing a player so talented is always a tough blow for any team. With the potential savings of letting Dybala walk, Juventus could sign someone else to fill the hole left by the Argentinian international, and so it’s fair to say rumors about Nicolo Zaniolo from Roma or Giacomo Raspadori from Sassuolo will not stop anytime soon now that the writing is on the wall regarding La Joya.
Will either of those two players — or the many other names that will surely be brought up in transfer rumors in the coming weeks and months — make Juventus a better team next season? Who knows, after all Dybala still leads the team in goals despite all the missed time. He’s been one of the most influential players for the team since he was signed over from Palermo in 2015 and a vice-captain. There is bound to be an adaptation period after losing a player of his caliber.
(Obviously, Vlahovic has more goals scored, but I’m only counting goals scored as a Juve player this year.)
Regardless of how the team performs on the field without their No. 10 and the debate about whether this is a wise move in the grand scheme of things, the reported nature of the negotiations should make any Juventus fan concerned about the identity of the club moving forward.
After nurturing a reputation of fair and clear dealings with players for years — a reputation that enabled them to swing so many of the Bosman deals the club became known for under Beppe Marotta — the saga regarding the Dybala renewal was a disaster from every possible angle.
While the biggest news have come this year, reports about a renewal for Dybala started all the way back in 2019 before the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic for Italy to go into lockdown and Serie A to go on pause. That’s two years that the club allowed the issue to go unresolved, kicking the can down the road and risking losing one of their most talented players on a free transfer.
Even after all that, every report indicated that an agreement was imminent in November of last year, with Dybala and Juventus agreeing to a handshake deal that would see him renew his deal until 2026. That seemed to put an end to the speculation, as Juventus geared to go into 2022 with this matter resolved. Journalists out of Italy even went so far as to put in print that the only thing missing was the signature. Dybala himself jokingly mentioned that he was going to be in Turin in five years time.
Days, weeks and months went by and the signature never came. After having an agreement, Juventus pulled the offer in the umpteenth hour because the “focus” of the project had changed.
This is the same club that had no issue shattering their wage scale to sign Cristiano Ronaldo in the summer of 2018. The same club that found ways to sign guys like the aforementioned Chiesa, Locatelli and Vlahovic despite continuously reporting numbers in the red. The same club that gave guys like Emre Can, Ramsey and Adrien Rabiot massive wages on free deals to lure them to Turin. This wasn’t about money, Juventus has showed time and time again that when they really need to find the funds to make a deal happen they can do so with relative ease.
(Quick reminder that Juventus is owned by a company in Exor that currently has a $16.2 billion market cap and that not more than three months ago made the third most expensive deal ever in the winter transfer window. I cannot stress enough that this wasn’t about money.)
As Juve fans, we love to talk about the mythology of the club. About the great senatori, Lo Stilo Juve and how somethings — like being named captain or wear the No. 10 shirt, for example — just mean more when you are at Juventus. How this club is a family, a tradition, how a true gentleman never leaves his lady, Fino alla Fine and so many more idiosyncrasies in that vein.
Clubs need to do this because, after all, they need to get you financially and emotionally invested in watching 22 rich guys play a children’s game every few days. But at its core, and especially since the turn of the century, football is nothing more than a business.
(Half of being a football fan is being able to just forget or ignore that fact.)
Juventus had an agreement on a new contract with a prominent employee of the club and they decided they did not want to continue the work relationship after all because it wasn’t in the best interest of the business to do so. Fair play to CEO Maurizio Arrivabene to just come out and say it out loud Monday after the initial dust had settled.
Arrivabene to Sky Italia: “With the purchases made in January, with the arrival of Vlahovic, Paulo’s position was no longer at the centre of the project.”— Adam Digby (@Adz77) March 21, 2022
Then again, I think it’s also fair to admit that Juventus is no longer — perhaps it never was — a special or different club. In which things matter more, in which players are treated like family and not as employees that are shown the door the moment they become surplus to necessities. In which the number you wear is nothing more than an identifier and the captain’s armband a piece of — branded, of course — fabric you wrap around your arm with no significance beyond that.
As fans, we often demand loyalty from players that suit up for our clubs. We ask them to play through injuries, to care just as much or more than we do. How often do we ask clubs to be loyal to players, though? The guys who did play through injuries and gave everything for the team?
Paulo Dybala was a great Juventus player and my guess is that a few years from now we will remember his cracking left-footed goals a lot more than how the final months of his Bianconeri career played out. I’m sure he’ll land on his feet.
As for Juventus, my only request is that when the club assigns the No. 10 shirt once again, perhaps let’s do away with the gravitas, the fan service and the flashy videos.
It’s just a number.