‘The New Messi’ – The feared label seems to plague every promising left-footed forward and Paulo Dybala tops that extensive list at the moment.
It’s a term he’s openly denounced in the past and has done so again in the aftermath of a scintillating performance that helped Juventus sink Lionel Messi’s Barcelona on Tuesday night.
“I understand the comparisons and expectations on me but I do not want to be the new Messi or the Messi of the future.”
The 23-year-old can distance himself from the unwanted tag all he wants but it will always rear its ugly head, especially when he insists on playing the way he did in the 3-0 Champions League quarter-final victory.
The comparisons with Messi aren’t completely unjustified. After all, they’re both Argentinian, left-footed and ridiculously gifted players. But Dybala is his own player, relying more on his velvet touch, clinical finishing and intelligence.
Given Juventus’ triumph, the appealing narrative is that Messi’s eventual decline (which is still years away one would suspect) gives way to Dybala’s rise to prominence. But the five-time Ballon d’Or winner was not played off the park on Tuesday and neither were Barcelona.
In fact, the Catalans did have moments to reduce the deficit and Messi was at the heart of it. At 1-0, he produced a through ball that cut straight through Juventus’ midfield and defensive lines only for Gianluigi Buffon to produce a brilliant save to deny Andres Iniesta.
While some may misconstrue Dybala’s dominating display against Barcelona as further evidence that he is indeed The New Messi, it should instead point to a coming of age for the Juventus ace, the night he established himself as a truly world class player and one we can expect to be thrilled by for years to come.
Lionel Messi literally puts it on a plate with salt and pepper, and his teammates still miss... pic.twitter.com/tkUkqcSaVy— infosmessi (@INFOSMESSl) April 11, 2017
The Ballon d’Or has been won by either Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi for the last nine years (Messi winning five times and Ronaldo four) with Kaka being the last recipient apart from that twosome, back in 2007.
The iconic rivalry between two of the best players to ever grace a football pitch has defined the modern era of the game with the third nominee acting as little more than a prop for photo ops.
But all good things must come to an end and so must this phenomenal duopoly over the most prestigious individual prize in football.
Boasting an exceptional record at club and international level, Neymar has already staked his claim to call one of those golden globes his own one day as has Antoine Griezmann but in Dybala they will encounter a fierce competitor.
The Argentine signed for Palermo in 2012 and after proving his mettle at the Serie A side, it was club President Maurizio Zamparini who first declared: “He’s the new Leo Messi!”
Pogba last yr: "I call Dybala 'Square R2'. That’s the combination u press on PlayStation to do a turn and shot. He always scores like that.”— Paolo Bandini (@Paolo_Bandini) April 11, 2017
In Turin, Dybala has grown into an outstanding performer, scoring 23 times last season and already notching up 16 so far in this campaign.
He’s regularly shown flashes of brilliance but his two clever finishes on Tuesday, on such a big stage against top class opposition showed the pedigree of a supreme talent eager to assume more responsibility and take over the mantle as the team’s talisman.
While he is not a direct replacement for 29-year-old Messi, when the Barcelona legend eventually rides off into the sunset, Dybala will be a front-runner to assume the throne in Argentinian football.