Rewind to June 4, 2015 where a baby-faced Paulo Dybala was in the process of completing his dream move to Italian champions Juventus from mid-table Serie A side Palermo. The transfer fee was sizeable for the then 21-year-old Argentine starlet, €32m payable over four years with potential for a further €8m in bonuses to be included.
Paulo had been in Sicily since 2012 and during that time developed a reputation for being one of the most exciting young talents in Calcio. Prior to joining the Turin giants, Dybala had just put the finishing touches on his most productive campaign for the Rosanero when helping himself to an impressive 13 goals and 10 assists.
If there were any doubts over Juve’s hefty investment in ‘La Joya’, he quickly set about proving why the Bianconeri had shelled out millions to make him at that time the third most expensive purchase in their history.
Entering as a second-half substitute in the Supercoppa Italiana against Lazio, the No 21 rocketed a first time shot into the roof of the net from around 12 yards out after receiving a bouncing pass from a certain Paul Pogba. It’s a goal that will have Juventini reminiscing and a combination that Manchester United fans will hope to see replicated in the near future.
By the end of his first two seasons in black and white, ‘Paulino’ had registered 42 goals and 18 assists in 94 games across all competitions. Firmly cementing himself his as a pivotal player in the team while establishing an instant connection with those in the stands. Dybala was lighting up the Allianz Juventus Stadium in a way that supporters watching perhaps hadn’t seen since the days of the iconic Alessandro Del Piero.
There was a sense of expectation when Dybala had possession. A gifted technician capable of changing an attack in a magical phase of play. He was often seen wriggling away from pressure or ghosting past defenders, making the most of his agility and expert close control/dribbling skills. Supportive in the build-up, he would drop deep to help progress play, and in the final third he showed a complete attacking make-up.
A creative spark, Dybala regularly carved out chances for his teammates with inventive play, and when he was not creating, he was busy scoring. Lethal around the penalty area, the former Instituto forward is clinical from a variety of ranges and was often seen wheeling away in celebration after dispatching another superbly executed free-kick.
Paulo Dybala was Juve’s jewel. The football world was watching and in 2017 when he claimed the iconic No 10 jersey, the hope was that PD10 would go on to reach legendary status like many of those who had previously donned that special title.
Acquiring one of football’s most famous shirts was not lost on Dybala, who stated at the time it was "a childhood dream come true” and how the No 10 would bring an “even stronger commitment inside of me to bring my team to victory in every game, in every competition and for every trophy."
La Joya was inspirational during the 2017-2018 season. Carrying his team at times he would produce his best campaign yet when recording 26 goals and seven assists in 46 outings. After three years in Turin, Dybala’s numbers were impressive: 68 goals and 25 assists in 140 appearances were accompanied by eight trophies and a number of individual awards.
Dybala seemingly had the football world at his feet. His global brand was expanding along with his trademark “Dybala Mask” celebration. With Cristiano Ronaldo arriving last year, Paulo was expected to reach new heights. Despite his performances tailing off prior to CR7’s arrival, much of that was put down to Juve’s functionality and lack of fluidity.
Following a disappointing 2018 World Cup in Russia, his return to the north of Italy for the new season was hotly anticipated. Dybala and Ronaldo were predicted to form the most feared attack in Europe, making La Vecchia Signora favourites for the Champions League. Instead La Joya’s slump continued, the partnership never materialised as expected and Dybala was left marginalised.
Former boss Max Allegri attempted on numerous occasions to find room in his team for Dybala, but despite Max’s best efforts, La Joya’s influential powers were draining away and the unstoppable strike force never transpired.
Unsurprisingly, Dybala’s best performances came when his superstar Portuguese teammate was out of the side. This left the 25-year-old free to dominate and manipulate the attack as he liked, proving that when Dybala is at the centre of proceedings, he is unplayable.
By the end of last term, Dybala had become a peripheral figure in every way. No longer a guaranteed starter, and in the eyes of many had fallen behind Mario Mandzukic, Federico Bernardeschi and eventually Moise Kean. No longer unsellable for the club, the directors were opening the door for his potential exit, but for the fans, the appointment of Maurizio Sarri was seen as a lifeline for the Paulino they know and adore.
Now just a few weeks into Sarri’s tenure, it appears that the belief in Dybala from those on the inside has completely dissolved. For Juventini, Dybala’s star still shines bright. As fans they appreciate his loyalty, his undeniable talent and recognise what he has given for the shirt. The feeling is mutual, and this transfer will come as a bitter pill to swallow for all.
Paulo Dybala will be remembered fondly in Turin. At times he was captivating, leaving those watching in awe, but he will also vacate with a feeling of what if? La Joya will leave Juventus with everyone feeling that this journey is incomplete, that they didn’t achieve everything they could together.