For Cordoba natives Franco Vazquez and Paulo Dybala, it has so far been a season of justification. After arriving to much hype eight months apart in 2012, they are now finally showing their worth.
Between them this season, the duo have either scored or assisted 13 of Palermo’s 15 goals and started every match. Without the contributions of Vazquez and Dybala, the Rosanero’s season would unquestionably have a very different outlook. Yet, even as little as 12 months ago, not many would have backed them to be so decisive.
After 21 rounds of last season’s successful push for promotion from Serie B, Vazquez had not featured and only made the bench once. Dybala, in contrast, had been involved, but failed to net in 14 appearances. For a player who Palermo President Maurizio Zamparini now claims is ‘part Messi, part Montella, all world class’ and worth ‘more than €40m’, it was a tough period.
Dybala had been signed from Instituto ACC for a reported fee of €11.9m in July 2012. He was dubbed the ‘new Sergio Aguero’ and the biggest signing bought with the proceeds of the sales of Edinson Cavani, Javier Pastore and Simon Kjaer.
After going through the likes of Mauricio Pinilla, Igor Budan and Massimo Maccarone to try and find a replacement for Cavani and a partner for Fabrizio Miccoli, Zamparini now had the new star he craved, but it didn't work out.
In his first season, Dybala managed just three goals in 27 appearances, as Palermo were relegated. The teenager had shown flashes, but ultimately underwhelmed.
“I know at the start they expected more from me, but it was complicated adapting to your football,” he conceded recently.
To expect him to save a catastrophic campaign that had seen Zamparini make four managerial changes was perhaps unfair, but his failure to subsequently make an impact in Serie B was concerning.
For Vazquez, Palermo had also not been a natural fit. The then 22 year-old was signed in January 2012 from Belgrano, yet after making just four starts, he was loaned Rayo Vallecano for the 2012-13 season. His impact in Spain was limited and after returning to Palermo, head Coach Beppe Iachini initially demoted him to playing with the primavera.
A specialist in securing promotions, Iachini has, however, always been resourceful and his decision to reintegrate Vazquez for the round 22 draw at Modena was a masterstroke. The playmaker would grow into the side and end the campaign with four goals and five assists, as Palermo finished first.
His influence also extended to Dybala, who finally scored against Bari in round 27 and went on to net four more.
Iachini had found a combination that worked and after the departure of top scorers Abel Hernandez and Kyle Lafferty, he tweaked his preferred 3-5-2 to a 3-5-1-1 to put the duo at the forefront of his side for Palermo’s assault on Serie A. That decision was rewarded immediately, with Vazquez scoring in three of his first four appearances, while Dybala has six so far and is now the focal point of the team.
“His quality is beyond doubt,” states Iachini. “We just moved him closer to the goal to get the best out of his characteristics.”
Dybala and Vazquez’s form has led Italy Coach Antonio Conte to suggest they could be naturalised to feature for the Azzurri, while Zamparini is desperate to extend their contracts beyond their current 2016 cut-off.
The duo may have taken their time, but they have finally arrived in Sicily.