As the dust settled on Juventus’ Champions League drubbing of Barcelona, the masterful performance of Paulo Dybala appeared to elevate the efforts of the media who were already intent on dubbing him as “the next Lionel Messi”.
Although the parallels between the two Argentines are undeniable, Dybala’s captivating performance in the tie, affirmed the notion that he possesses the individual brilliance to enthral world football in his own unique way for many years to come.
When Dybala joined Palermo in 2012 he wasn’t only following in the footsteps of an elite assemblage of Argentine players to play in Italy, he was also continuing Palermo’s proud tradition of providing a home for some of the world’s most exciting footballers; Edison Cavani, Andrea Bellotti and Javier Pastore all made their name in the pink of Palermo, emulating these players was almost an inescapable expectancy for Dybala.
The weight of expectation on Dybala was heightened when having signed for Palermo, the club’s president, Maurizio Zamparini jubilantly exclaimed “we have signed the new Aguero”, a statement that not only spawned immense levels of excitement amongst Rosanero supporters, but also burdened the 18-year-old with a colossal amount of pressure.
Managerial instability during his first season at the Renzo Barbero, meant that Dybala had very little success and was part of a Palermo side that suffered relegation to the second tier of Italian football.
Despite the agony of relegation, a season in the second tier provided Palermo with an opportunity to reassemble some managerial cohesion and gave Dybala a season to adapt to Italian football.
After spending just a season in Serie B, Palermo returned to Italy’s top flight with a newly formed front two, a well settled Dybala and an inform Franco Vazquez combined to make one of the most fearsome strike forces in Italy.
It was as if they were born to play next to one and other, the physicality of Vazquez regularly allowed Dybala to find space in the last third and the pair consistently combined to create opportunities for each other.
It was in 2014/15, alongside Vazquez, that Dybala had his breakthrough season, helping Palermo finish comfortably mid-table with 13 goals and 10 assists.
It didn’t take long before the prowess of Dybala attracted the attention of Juventus and when the Old Lady lust for a player, they normally have very few problems acquiring them, therefore, it was unsurprising when the Italian giants secured the services of the majestic Argentine in the summer of 2015.
In his first season at the Bianconeri, Dybala played a pivotal role in helping Allegri’s win a historic fourth consecutive league title.
Unsurprisingly, when fellow Argentine Gonzalo Higuain arrived at Juventus, he took the ascendancy in leading the line at the club. Nonetheless, the role of Dybala this season has far exceeded that of backup to the former Napoli centre forward.
Each time manager Max Allegri has asked Dybala to play behind Higuain, the 23-year-old has been formidable, continuing to consistently aide Juventus’ domination of Italy with copious amounts of goals and assists.
Allegri has opted to utilise Dybala as a shadow striker to Higuain on 25 occasions this season, it is a role that he has thrived in, directly assisting 6 goals and scoring 10 goals from that position.
On the incredibly rare occasions that Higuain has not been prolific leading the line for the Italian champions, Dybala has displayed his versatility, scoring on five out of eight times that he has been used as a centre forward.
It is not solely Dybala’s efficiency in front of goal that has led to the eulogistic Messi analogies, with a staggering amount of regularity, the left foot of the Argentine has effortlessly distributed exquisite through balls that have split open Serie A defences.
Even the most casual follower of Italian football has come to terms with just how much potential Dybala has showcased this season.
However, it was on European football’s biggest stage that he captivated the world, the Argentine all but ended Barcelona’s Champions League campaign; netting two of Juve’s three goals in the quarter-final drubbing.
In doing so, he summoned the interests of world football, forcing everyone to acknowledge him as one of the brightest prospects in the game.
Very little astuteness was required to foresee Dybala’s masterful performances enticing the inexorable interest of Barcelona and Real Madrid, in the aftermath of the Juventus/Barcelona tie speculation about the player’s future was at fever pitch.
It became clear that discouraging this interest from the Spanish giants was the foremost priority of the incredibly shrewd Juventus chairman Andrea Agnelli when, less than a week after the Champions League mauling, he rewarded the form of Dybala by giving him a bumper new £5.9 million-a-year contract extension; news that was greeted with widespread jubilation from Juventus supporters.
Whilst Juventus were eager to scupper any potential Barcelona or Real Madrid bid for Dybala, the player himself, was vehemently trying to distance himself from the assumption that he is “the new Messi”.
During the fall out to Juventus’ defeat of Barcelona, the comparisons inevitably remerged, prompting Dybala to speak out:
I understand the comparisons and expectations on me from the Argentines, but I don’t want to be the new Messi or the Messi of the future. There is only one Messi, like Maradona. No one has ever told me that I am his heir.
As a supremely gifted Argentine with a wondrous left foot and a knack for producing the extraordinary, comparisons with Messi are almost to be expected, in Dybala’s case however, they’re completely extraneous.
Whilst Dybala carves his own magnificent legacy, it is almost unjustifiable to laden the progress of the attacker with constant comparisons to the unmistakable Messi.