Since taking over the running of the club in 2010, Juventus director general Beppe Marotta had operated carefully. His first year was blighted with mistakes like €12 million winger Jorge Martinez and Coach Gigi Delneri, but following the appointment of Antonio Conte the official had taken very few risks.
Those he did take a chance on usually panned out, from snatching Andrea Pirlo on a free transfer to picking up Carlos Tevez when the rest of Europe appeared to shun him, until the Bianconeri had a team capable of reaching the Champions League Final.
When they lost 3-1 to Barcelona however, a number of key players decided they had gone as far as they could with Italian football’s grand Old Lady.
Arturo Vidal moved on to Bayern Munich and made no secret of either his ambition to win European football’s greatest prize or the belief that the Bundesliga outfit presented him with a better opportunity to do so.
Pirlo opted for a new adventure with MLS side New York City FC, while Tevez chose to return home to Boca Juniors, even if that romantic dream was eventually ended by the lure of a Chinese fortune.
Yet the departures only served to embolden those tasked with replacing them. Consulting with club Vice President Pavel Nedved and Sporting Director Fabio Paratici, Marotta identified Paulo Dybala as the man to fill the void left by Tevez.
He had enjoyed a fine season with Palermo, but bristled when the Sicilian club’s owner Maurizio Zamparini said he was worth €42 million.
“That sum is a lie,” said Dybala when that figure was mentioned during an interview. “Not many players are worth that much and I’m certainly not among them.”
Marotta disagreed, but the €32 million outlay – and a potential further €8 million in bonus payments – made him the fourth-most expensive signing Juventus had ever made.
Only Gianluigi Buffon, Lilian Thuram and Nedved (all signed in the summer of 2001) cost more, and questions were immediately asked about making such a sizeable investment in a player who had yet to prove his true value.
Indeed, while Tevez had bagged 29 goals in his final season with the Bianconeri, Dybala had only scored a total of 21 since joining Palermo in 2012.
Keen to protect his young charge, Coach Max Allegri began the new campaign with the expensive acquisition on the bench, preferring to start Alvaro Morata alongside Mario Mandzukic in attack.
But Dybala would not be denied, netting his first goal after making his debut as a substitute in the Supercoppa Italiana and continually impressing despite Juventus recording some poor results.
Eventually he showed he was too good to sit out, becoming Allegri’s best weapon and single-handedly destroying some truly formidable opponents as the team went on to win the title.
Irrepressible and undeterred by his critics, Dybala repeatedly showcased his talent with match-winning performances against the likes of AC Milan, Lazio and AS Roma.
He was also key in helping the Bianconeri earn a 2-2 draw with Bayern Munich in the first leg of their Champions League, while his injury-enforced absence from the return fixture undoubtedly led to the German side progressing.
He made his debut for Argentina last October – ironically coming on to replace Tevez against Paraguay – and finished the season with 23 goals in all competitions for Juventus.
His ten assists in Serie A were a league-high and despite much upheaval in Turin again this summer, Dybala has begun the 2016/17 campaign in similar fashion.
A thigh injury against Milan limited his appearances, yet he has already bagged four goals and two assists in just 892 minutes of action.
Again he has turned in some virtuoso performances, notably dispatching Udinese with a wonderful free-kick and a penalty in a 2-1 victory, yet it was arguably a game in which he made just a brief cameo that best underlined his quality.
Sent on as a late substitute in the intense derby clash with Torino, Dybala received a pass just inside the opposition half with three defenders in close proximity.
Moving as if he was going to pass, the striker turned and sped down the touchline, leaving two of them in his wake. Help arrived, but with a deft change of direction and a neat shift of his body weight, the 23-year-old skipped infield and hit a pass to the onrushing Gonzalo Higuain.
When Joe Hart parried the shot, it was Dybala who reacted quickest, controlling the ball before laying it off to Miralem Pjanić who eventually found the back of the net.
Pjanic's goal. 3-1. Look at Dybala in the build up. Magical. pic.twitter.com/9JSK0qE64k— Tarek Khatib (@ADP1113) December 11, 2016
Combining the speed, strength, skill and intelligence that are now hallmarks of his play, the man known as La Joya – The Jewel – also showed the tenacity that he has found since moving to Turin.
It is a heady blend of attributes, one that marks Dybala out as not only Juve’s most important and decisive player, but also as perhaps European football’s next truly great superstar.
With Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are surely set to fade, it is Dybala who arguably leads the charge behind the game’s most iconic stars.
His wonderful timing, ability to score or find a team-mate and his magical left foot make him a nightmare for defenders, while his love of the game and boyish grin make him a marketing man’s dream.
It is no surprise that both Barcelona and Real Madrid have been linked with record-breaking bids for the Juventus No.21, a shirt that carries a heavy legacy given that it was previously worn by Zinedine Zidane, Thuram and Pirlo.
The Bianconeri are in no rush to sell him and Dybala seems set to commit to a new contract in the coming weeks, with his agent Pierpaolo Triulzi telling La Gazzetta dello Sport there is “no doubt” about him extending his stay at the club.
Dybala is committed to delighting the crowd at Juventus Stadium for the foreseeable future, and that truly is something to smile about.
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