“I am Paulo Dybala and I want to be only Paulo Dybala.” These were the words of the 23-year-old before the clash against Barcelona last week. The Old Lady’s exquisite Number 10 was clear in his views, there is only one Diego Maradona, there is only one Lionel Messi and there is only one of him. This was said not with the exalted stance exhibited at times from Zlatan Ibrahimovic, nor was it with the cool, sophisticated self-confidence show by Thierry Henry, this was a statement by a young kid on the precipice of being one of the best, whilst still being incredibly self-aware.
There is no doubt that his performance in Turin was good enough to earn him the right to say he had arrived on the world stage. To be fair, this is an understatement, as for Juventus he has been performing in many different guises since he arrived. His adaptability, team ethic and self-sacrifice has already shown any serial watcher of Serie A that he is fully equipped for this mantle.
It hasn’t always been like that, as when he first signed for Palermo in 2012 for €12m he was as surprised as any that the club had gambled so much on him. This quiet, insecure and homesick youth arrived in Sicily bamboozled by the price-tag and fighting an internal battle where he still pined for the loss of his father (to pancreatic cancer when he was 15) and now only wanted to prove himself. Injury also didn’t help and it must not be forgotten that in this season in Serie B, he was second in notoriety to Northern Ireland’s Kyle Lafferty, who that year was superb.
Whilst this seems incomprehensible today, as the Argentine almost dispatched Barcelona in the first leg, it hasn’t been an easy journey. This growth has been due to his ability to adapt and work around the structure in the team. In that season with Lafferty, he happily played second fiddle before coming to the forefront in 2014-15, when he found his own provider and formed the beautiful partnership with the brilliant Franco Vasquez.
Adapting again to a Juventus side in transition, he operated in wide positions simply to help the team. Slowly he is becoming the focal point of the squad, his natural ability and new levels of confidence placing him on a new level.
To compare him with anyone is pointless, as this Argentinian is quite unique. Dybala is still emerging and is devastatingly selfless and yet ruthless on command. Let’s not forget the litany of names referred to as the ‘new Messi’ over the years. It makes for a good headline, but is ultimately damaging to everyone concerned.
Sometimes it better to simply watch and appreciate the growth of a talent that is maturing in the right environment. As he said, he is Dybala, and that’s all.