It’s difficult to know what Paulo Dybala made of Cristiano Ronaldo’s exquisite overhead kick last night. Most likely he wanted to applaud the Portuguese superstar, much like the 40,000 Juve fans inside the Juventus Stadium who did. Just two minutes later Dybala gave his only memorable contribution to the game, clattering recklessly into the midriff of Dani Carvajal to earn a second yellow. Off he trudged, head down towards the tunnel.
It only served to heighten the difference between the greatness in Ronaldo and the supposed greatness in Dybala. While Dybala has never been directly compared to the former - their styles are completely different – Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are the measuring sticks for footballers a rung or two down on the ladder. And whilst those are once-in-a-generation talents that have soared above everyone else for so long it’s almost difficult to imagine the game pre-Messi and Ronaldo, Dybala is thought of as a player in the next band of superstars ready to take over the mantle.
Dybala is not even remotely close. His red card last night encapsulated his night. It capped off a poor, at times even cringe-worthy performance that begs the question: should Juventus build their team around him?
Without the presence of Medhi Benatia and Miralem Pjanic, many wondered what tactical scheme Max Allegri would conjure up before the match. In the context of the game and the result, it must be argued that he got his choices right. Juve did remarkably well for a majority of the game, but it was individual errors, a facet Allegri can’t control, that contributed to the seemingly one-sided result.
Dybala was the worst performer from the Juventus front six. On the ball he was ponderous, lacking any real zip or drive. On the occasion that he would attempt to slither away from Madrid defenders, he was easily dispossessed, or would throw himself on the wet Turin turf, arms outstretched, looking towards the referee like a sick dog. Indeed, his first yellow card was for simulation.
There is a genuine question to be asked about the Argentine’s big game temperament. In the Champions League, particularly, he has struggled to assert himself in the way he so often does in Serie A. The 3-0 victory against Barcelona last year aside, when has Dybala put in a performance to warrant his burgeoning reputation? You’re left to trawl the darkest corners of your brain to remember, and ultimately you’re left with nothing.
The mythical ‘half-time fight’ between Dani Alves and Leonardo Bonucci in Cardiff in last season’s final reportedly stemmed from Dybala – again - picking up a silly yellow card early in the game and letting it affect his performance thereafter. Whilst last night wasn’t a disappearing act in line with the Welsh capital, it shows a severe mental weakness that Dybala needs to overcome if he’s to be considered in that next group of players to supercede Messi and Ronaldo.
Dybala is now at a precipice in his career. He’s 25 later this year, and can no longer be thought of as an up-and-coming talent. He needs to take responsibility on the pitch. His six goals in 23 European starts isn’t exactly the tally of supposed superstars, and allowances could be made if the performances were telling, but they aren’t.
The late Michael Jackson was once asked for insight on how to become successful in your chosen profession. Jackson, without hesitation, remarked, “study the greats, and become greater.”
It’s advice Paulo Dybala could do well to heed, starting with re-watching last night’s masterclass from Ronaldo.