Another diminutive left-footer is getting ready to play a bigger role in Argentina's football side. Paulo Dybala, the 23-year-old forward who plays for Juventus club in the Italian league, is likely to be an integral part of the Argentine attack in the future. His illustrious senior peers, Lionel Messi, Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain, will all be touching 30 by the time of the next World Cup in Russia in 2018.
During the April 11 Champions League quarterfinal between Juventus and Barcelona, billed as a gladiatorial contest between Dybala and Messi, the world of sport witnessed the arrival of an exciting talent. Seven minutes into the game, Dybala had already put his famous compatriot in the shade. Receiving the ball inside the area, Dybala swivelled and let loose a curler which beat the Barcelona defence and keeper. Fifteen minutes later, Dybala scored again and virtually condemned the Spanish side to the sidelines.
Besides his talent and skill, Dybala's trademark celebration — peeling away with his hand covering the lower half of his face — enlivens his fans. “The Dybalamask is really simple,” he says. “It’s the mask of a gladiator.” The Juventus Ultras already knew. They had a massive banner with a picture of his celebration unfurled even before the game. Dybala is efficient, moves swiftly and always has an eye on the goal.
Is he the next Messi?
Well, both of them are diminutive and favour their left foot. Dybala is a natural like Messi and most of Argentina, thirsting for a major title in more than two decades, sees Dybala as someone who can take over from Messi and probably deliver where the Barcelona talisman has failed.
Dybala, though, has some way to go before his achievements even begin to match those of the man from Rosario, much less better them, considering that Messi has been at the top of his game for more than a decade.
Stack up their numbers for this season alone and Dybala compares favourably with Messi in terms of assists (seven and nine), chances created (56 and 78) and key passes (49 and 69) as per www.squawka.com, though this comes with the rider that they play in leagues, the Serie A and La Liga, which couldn’t be more dissimilar. Messi, of course, is streets ahead in terms of goals scored, 37 to Dybala’s 10.
What is interesting is that Dybala has racked up these stats in 30 games across 2,069 minutes, compared with Messi’s 34 and 2,830. Comparisons, though, are odious and unfair.
They rarely present the true picture; to put it in perspective, when Dybala first arrived in Italy in 2012, Palermo’s Maurizio Zamparini called him the next Aguero.
Dybala himself dislikes the comparisons and has stated: “People have to know that I am not Messi. I am Dybala and I want only to be Dybala, although I understand that there are comparisons.”
Why is he called the ‘jewel’?
From the time Dybala started at home-town club Instituto AC Córdoba, he has shown that he can deliver.
Of Polish and Italian descent, Dybala’s grandfather immigrated to Argentina during the Second World War. Dybala broke Argentine legend Mario Kempes’ record as the youngest ever scorer for Cordoba at age 17. No wonder then that he was dubbed La Joya (the Jewel). Europe soon beckoned, but the journey from Palermo, his first club in Europe, to Juventus has been anything but smooth.
Dybala has grown in stature season after season. While his club career is on the ascendancy, his national team appearances have been limited.
Will he lead Argentina’s forward line in future? For that to happen he will have to break into a club whose members include Messi, Aguero and Higuain. The signs are positive, and time is on his side.
On June 3, Dybala has the perfect opportunity to show the world that he has truly moved out of their shadows when Juventus squares off against Real Madrid in the Champions League final.
For now, only the Juventus faithful are copying his mask celebrations, but if Dybala does his stuff at Cardiff, expect a legion of football fans to ape him.