Paulo Dybala transfer: How life in Cristiano Ronaldo’s shadow pushed Juve star to Spurs & Manchester United

The Argentine was supposed to be the new face to lead Juve into the future. Instead he could be set to leave

Adam Digby
Friday 26 July 2019 06:59
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Maurizio Sarri wants to help Cristiano Ronaldo break more records at Juventus

After Paul Pogba fulfilled his wish of returning to Manchester United, his former club Juventus knew they needed to point to a new face as the man to lead them into the future, a player fans could identify as the shining jewel of the Old Lady’s crown.

The decision was easy. By the summer of 2017, Paulo Dybala was widely recognised as one of world football’s most promising talents, a player who – alongside Neymar and Kylian Mbappé – was ready to take over from Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Dybala was given a prominent role as the Bianconeri unveiled their new kits, also inheriting the club’s history-laden No 10 shirt that had previously been worn by so many iconic stars.

“It's an honour to wear it, as it carries a sense of responsibility and of belonging to the history of a great club like Juventus FC,” he would write in a social media post at the time. "It was on the backs of so many Bianconeri champions: Omar Sivori, Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio, Alessandro Del Piero, Carlos Tevez, Paul Pogba.

"This is why for me today, having the No 10 shirt on my skin is not just a childhood dream come true, but also an even stronger commitment inside of me to bring my team to victory in every game, in every competition and for every trophy."

He seemed to be inspired by the club’s growing faith in him too, responding by making the 2017/18 campaign the best of his young career as he set a personal record with 22 league goals. That tally included the first hat tricks Dybala had ever registered, while he added five more goals in other competitions and a total of eight assists in 46 appearances.

Almost unplayable at various points in the season, the idea of him forming an attacking partnership at international level with Messi was already in play when Ronaldo’s decision to join Juventus shocked supporters across Europe. The thought of CR7 teaming up with Dybala on a weekly basis was a mouthwatering prospect for fans in Turin, and suddenly the Bianconeri were being installed as favourites to win the Champions League.

An adjustment period was inevitable, but if Ronaldo’s move to Italy was expected to cause a seismic shift of the football landscape across the continent, it also seemed to paralyse the Old Lady’s No 10. No longer the star of the show, Dybala was now firmly in the shadow of a five-time Ballon d’Or winner, with no player in Max Allegri’s squad affected as negatively as the Argentinian prodigy.

He scored just five league goals which, aside from a strike against AC Milan in April, came solely against Serie A’s minnows. Netting against Bologna, Cagliari and Frosinone, Dybala added five more goals in the Champions League, but the theme continued as four of those came against Swiss minnows Young Boys.

While Mario Mandzukic thrived in a central role that allowed him to swap positions when Ronaldo wanted to play through the middle, being forced out to the right wing simply isolated Dybala and no amount of tinkering could shift him out of his funk. Losing his way, he would eventually be replaced in the starting XI by Federico Bernardeschi, a less naturally gifted player but one who seemed far happier to cede the spotlight to Ronaldo and help him deliver victories rather than seek personal glory.

Dybala was once a centrepiece for Juve (Getty )

“Even just by seeing him train, you learn things to put in your locker,” Bernardeschi would say back in May. “Ronaldo can cast a shadow or be a stimulus: I took the second route, silently trying to grab everything I saw. I’m happy with the good relationship we have.”

That was reflected in their play together, but the ultimate result is that Dybala has gone from being the leading light to now seemingly surplus to requirements under Maurizio Sarri. Bernardeschi has already claimed that the new boss sees him as the right winger in his 4-3-3 framework, while a growing number of reports have Dybala heading for the exit.

He had already been linked with both United and Paris Saint-Germain, but earlier this week it emerged that the 25-year-old is now a target for Tottenham. Spurs are said to have “jumped to the front of the queue,” opening talks with Juve sporting director Fabio Paratici and it is believed they are prepared to spend £80million to facilitate the move.

The Argentine could now leave Turin

It would mark quite the turnaround for the player in question but, as Bernardeschi revealed, not everyone can live in the shadow of Ronaldo. With a huge fee for one of their highest paid players, Juve could continue the dramatic reshuffle of their squad as they prepare for life with Sarri’s very detailed ideas.

Once the face of Juventus, Dybala is now seemingly looking for a fresh start and he could be on the move much sooner than expected.

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