Juventus Failed to Build a Team Around Paulo Dybala - Now La Joya Must Leave Turin to Find the Love He Deserves

Nov 25, 2020, 1:00 PM GMT
Paulo Dybala
Dybala has found himself on the bench all too regularly this season | Jonathan Moscrop/Getty Images

Modern Family protagonist Phil Dunphy once wisely noted, "If you love something, set it free - unless it's a tiger."

Paulo Dybala may possess the courage and determination of a tiger, but in the end, he is only human. And the time has come for Juventus to send him off into the wild and begin a new adventure elsewhere.

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It's a bitter pill to swallow for Juventus supporters and Serie A lovers, who have been eagerly anticipating la Joya making the top flight his playground since he arrived at Palermo in 2012, but eight years later, a painful realisation is slowly dawning upon us all.

It's not going to happen.

The numbers from his Juventus career tell the story of a man who's chipped in and lived up to the hype which has engulfed him, since moving to Turin in 2015. 19 goals in his debut season with the Italian giants was followed up by 11 and 22 in the next two campaigns respectively. A great return for someone who does not even operate as the main striker.

The Argentine had proven his worth as one of the best players in the business, and had announced himself to the world in a 3-0 drubbing of Barcelona back in 2017, scoring two sensational goals to bury the Spanish giants.

Two left-footed curlers from the edge of the penalty area immediately generated comparisons with his adversary on the night and national compatriot Lionel Messi, and many tipped the forward to be the legend's natural replacement at Barça when he was ready to pass the baton.

It was at that point that Juventus supporters were crying out, "Build this team around Dybala."

The thought of him leaving I Bianconeri was inconceivable, and he would only depart if offers north of €150m arrived from one of the few giant clubs in the world. Fast-forward three years from that magical November night in Turin, and that same talisman was taking to the turf once more on a Champions League evening - only, under very different circumstances.

New coach Andrea Pirlo handed the now 27-year-old a rare start, as a 90 minute audition to demonstrate what he can do for the man now at the Juve helm. The idea that Dybala would be fighting for his career in a battle with Hungarian minnows Ferencvaros would have been preposterous only a few seasons ago.

But having played a full 90 minutes only once in Serie A under Pirlo, and sitting as an unused substitute against both AS Roma and Hellas Verona (games which the champions failed to win), his influence over the team has been reduced to rubble.

That was reflected in his performance on Tuesday evening, where he failed to leave any mark on the game, and lacked any sort of rhythm or link up with his teammates. His lacklustre display was noticed by Pirlo, who commented that the forward 'didn't do well,' and must 'go beyond his limits in training' if he wants to get back into the team. In short: time is running out.

This Juventus side is moving forwards, and leaving their jewel behind.

One man who did get on the scoresheet in the scrappy 2-1 victory was Cristiano Ronaldo. The Portuguese striker did what he's always done since arriving in Turin back in 2018, banging in an endless supply of goals and digging Juventus out of holes with his predatory instinct.

He also developed a telepathic relationship with Dybala towards the end of last season, helping I Bianconeri fight off some serious competition to win their ninth successive league title. It was this blistering form which saw the Argentine somewhat surprisingly voted Serie A's MVP for the 2019/20 campaign, despite not always performing to his optimum under Maurizio Sarri.

That budding romance between Ronaldo and Dybala offered hope of the latter becoming a permanent fixture in the starting lineup this year. Alas, it is not to be.

In fact, one could pinpoint the Real Madrid legend's arrival as the moment it all started going pear-shaped for the little magician. Off the back of his statistically-best season, the time had arrived for Dybala to be the star. That team had to be built around him, designed to accentuate his strengths and compensate for his weaknesses.

Instead, they signed Ronaldo, and Dybala was reduced to being an ordinary cog in a machine built to serve, rather than becoming the focal point he deserved to be. Whether this damaged his belief that he was the future of the club could be argued, but whatever happened, it resulted in his worst return as a Juve player, notching only five goals and two assists in 2018/19.

And this led to the infamous summer of 2019, the moment which confirmed Dybala's fall from indispensable to disposable. In order to accommodate the €31m-a-year wages that Ronaldo was raking in, sacrifices had to be made in Turin.

Unbelievably, the board decided Dybala was the man to make way, and offered him out to both Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur, very much pushing him out of the door and slamming it shut behind him.

That should have been it. Instead, the outcast rebelled against his owners, declaring that he would fight for his place under Sarri, and went on to score some vital goals in their title charge. But again, it wasn't enough.

Paulo Dybala
The boy wonder | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

This summer's mini revolution saw the arrival of attacking stars Federico Chiesa and Dejan Kulusevski, both hungry to become the next big thing at Juventus. And they may well do so. With Ronaldo now approaching 36, his time in Italy is coming to an end. The forward's contract expires in 2022, and his hamstrung employers are clearly financially unable to further extend his eye-watering deal.

So, newcomers Chiesa, 23, and Kulusevski, 20, can dream of becoming the lynchpin in this side, and having a team built around their qualities. But for Dybala, that ship has sailed. At 27, he should already be the key player for one of Europe's biggest clubs, and he probably would be exactly that in any team that doesn't include Ronaldo.

He'll be all too aware that another bad season or playing benchwarmer for long periods could seriously damage his chances of a big transfer, but it is definitely not too late for him to seal that move and make up for lost time at the top.

Paulo Dybala
Head in hands | DeFodi Images/Getty Images

The Argentine's contract expires along with Ronaldo's in the summer of 2022, and the hierarchy will now be contemplating the idea of cashing in on their expensive jewel before he loses value.

The general consensus around Juve supporters is that Pirlo should be able to find a way to squeeze their most technically gifted, maverick player into the starting lineup, and allow him the space to strut his unpredictable yet glorious stuff. That possibility is looking increasingly unlikely.

Crucially though, Juventini want Dybala to be happy. They've seen him grow into the player they knew he could be and he's dazzled them for half a decade with his artistry. Ultimately, his work has seemingly gone out of vogue.

So, if the star finally accepts he can only find the true respect and appreciation he craves by leaving Turin, then he must do so. And for the supporters, it's a dagger through the heart they're willing to accept.

That's true love.