Paulo Dybala is Juventus' jewel... but don't compare him with Lionel Messi
By Gerard Brand and Augusto De Bartolo
Last Updated: 02/03/16 9:02am
Being an in-form, left-footed, Argentine footballer can only make for one comparison.
Paulo Dybala's performances for Juventus this season since moving from Palermo in the summer have been stunning, and the 22-year-old's 17 goals so far only tell half of the story.
Known in his homeland as La Joya (The Jewel), Dybala shifts the gears quicker than his lightweight frame suggests, and that typically South American low centre of gravity has some in Italy making that oft-used analogy.
Lionel Messi all over, correct? Not quite, says Sky in Italy's Augusto De Bartolo. Dybala's thought and graft is in the mould of Carlos Tevez, and that is not to play down the potential impact he can have on the footballing world in the next few seasons.
"Dybala is very similar to Tevez in his style of play. He can play as a classic striker or as a forward free to roam on the flanks or in the middle, where I think he is best.
"He is in and out of defenders, never giving them a reference point as to where he will move next, both with and without the ball.
"Like Tevez, he is useful in the non-possession phase, pressing opponents high up the pitch.
"He is lethal in one-on-ones with the goalkeeper, has a superb first touch in front of goal and will shoot before the 'keeper has had a chance to set himself, like his goal against Manuel Neuer in the Champions League last week."
So where did the story begin? Dybala set the Argentina Primera B Nacional alight with Instituto in 2011/12, his hometown club famous for producing Ossie Ardiles and Mario Kempes, scoring 17 goals in 38 games and making his debut at 17.
He then signed for Palermo in 2012, and was immediately labelled the new Sergio Aguero by club president Maurizio Zamparini. His first two seasons yielded just eight goals in 58 games as Palermo were relegated from Serie A and then promoted, before a fine season on his return to Serie A in 2014/15.
He netted 13 times, prompting more over-emphatic praise from Zamparini again.
"It would take 40m euros to sign him from us," he said. "Within two years, he'll be better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi."
A bold call, but Zamparini was right about one thing. Dybala was taken to Juventus for 40m euros including add-ons, but the hype was more measured and his bedding-in more thought out when he arrived in Turin.
De Bartolo explains: "It was surprising the impact Dybala has had at Juventus. At the start of the season, despite the price tag, nobody thought he could have such an incisive first season.
"Juve manager Massimiliano Allegri has helped Dybala a lot in his growth. He has managed him in the right way from the beginning of the season, he didn't give him all of the responsibilities Tevez left behind and in his first 10 matches, played him only six times in the starting line-up.
"He wanted Dybala to understand the atmosphere around Juventus first - the club, the city, the supporters - without any pressure."
Dybala's bedding-in came at a difficult time for the champions. Their 1-0 defeat by Sassuolo on October 28 marked their worst start to a season in 28 years, leaving them 12th.
Juventus returned to winning ways against Torino three days later, before Dybala scored in the 3-1 win at Empoli, and then got the only goal against AC Milan two weeks later.
He had arrived, and Juve were now three victories into a 15-game winning streak. They now sit top of Serie A and are on course for a fifth straight league crown, and face Inter in the second leg of their Coppa Italia semi-final on Wednesday, live on Sky Sports 2 HD, having won the first leg 3-0.
Besides Messi and Tevez, a comparison closer to home for Dybala would be Juventus' resident superstar Paul Pogba, and while Sky in Italy's De Bartolo insists their playing styles are in no way contiguous, he believes the Argentine is having far more of an impact on the side at present.
"Within two years, he'll be better than Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Lionel Messi."
Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini, speaking in 2014
"It's not easy to compare Pogba and Dybala. They have different positions on the pitch, but I really think Dybala has been the more incisive player in Serie A this season.
"Dybala has become the leader of the team, not only because he has scored more but in his influence on the side. I can firmly say his performances have been to a higher standard than Pogba, and more consistently."
So, what are the chances of seeing Dybala on these shores in the coming seasons? Despite being reportedly linked with Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea in some quarters of the British and Italian press in the summer, Dybala chose Champions League runners-up Juventus.
Those three and more could come calling again, and while De Bartolo believes he will stay in Turin for a couple more seasons, he admits the board "would think" about a very big offer from, say, Pep Guardiola's Manchester City. What's more, the future of Frenchman Pogba, linked with here, there and everywhere for the past two seasons, could have an influence.
"The new challenge for Juventus is to try to refuse the offer that will no doubt arrive from other big clubs. It will depend on the future of Pogba.
"If Juventus are going to sell a player, it will be Pogba this summer. I think Dybala will remain in Turin for a couple of years, but if City make a very big offer, the board will think about it.
"If he continues this form, Dybala could be a huge name in the world of football. He won't be the new Messi or Ronaldo, but he could reach the level of Aguero or Wayne Rooney."
Would Dybala consider leaving Juventus for the Premier League? Give us your thoughts below, and watch him in action as Juventus travel to Inter Milan on Sky Sports 2HD on Wednesday from 7.30pm.