Paulo Dybala repays Juventus' faith in him by signing contract extension
"Messi who? The Martian is Dybala," roared the front-page headline of Tuttosport as Paulo Dybala scored a brace to down the mighty Barcelona. The architect behind Juve's most beautiful attacking moves this season, "La Joya" demonstrated his trademark moves and sensational finishing to secure the Italian giants' positive result in the Champions League midweek.
For those who watch him every match, his talent is undeniable; for the rest of the world, Dybala just announced himself on the biggest stage. All anyone could ask was" Can Juventus keep hold of the youngster or will the Argentina international go to Real Madrid or Barcelona?
"Playing for Juventus is something you dream about when you're a kid," Dybala said. And he's now extended his contract with the Turin team until 2022, eager to continue his development within a club now recognised for its ability to scout and bring in the world's greatest young talent.
Having developed a special relationship with Massimiliano Allegri, one that has had its ups and downs, the 23-year-old is in awe of the tactician who has helped him progress as a player. "The way he bedded me in was spot on," Dybala said of his manager. "Fortunately everything went as well as it could have done thanks to him and my teammates."
Indeed it has for a player who boasts the mercurial skills that belong only to the world's best. Exquisitely technical, Dybala not only initiates great attacking moves but he can finish with aplomb, track back to contribute defensively and boasts a winning mentality that sees him refuse to give up. There is nothing quite as mesmerising as watching the player on the ball, looking up to deliver a defence-splitting pass or roaming between the lines to exploit space and overcome the opponent.
His partnership with Gonzalo Higuain has blossomed both on and off the pitch, and the players are regularly seen embracing, working together and for one another to ensure Juventus score a steady stream of goals. Yet Higuain is not his only friend. For "La Joya" -- "the jewel", for his skills on the ball -- many would agree he's also a joy to be around when he's off it. He genuinely seems to love the team, his teammates and the city where he can enjoy a little peace. "In Turin I can walk through the streets of the city without any problems."
Dybala is often pictured out, spending time with his teammates, and even his girlfriend Antonella Cavalieri has embedded herself into life in Turin and is often spotted with the wives of Claudio Marchisio, Leonardo Bonucci and Andrea Barzagli, dining in Turin's hot spots.
So why Juventus? For one thing, Dybala describes the club as one of the biggest in the world and certainly in Italy. More importantly, as a Boca Juniors fan, it was Carlos Tevez's home, so when Tevez contacted the youngster telling him of Juve's interest in him and how he looked forward to playing together, Dybala's mind was made up, he wanted to be a Bianconero. Sadly for him, Tevez returned to Boca and the ex-Palermo forward had to settle for being his replacement rather than his teammate at Juventus.
Then there was Andrea Pirlo and Gianluigi Buffon. "My dream was to exchange shirts with Buffon, who is now my teammate at Juventus," explained Dybala. Regaling the media with tales of his embarrassment in asking for the goalkeeper's shirt, when he finally got to hold it in his hand, the forward described the feeling as unforgettable. As for Pirlo, his shirt hangs proudly on the wall in Dybala's house.
Offered freedom to play in the role he most loves under Allegri, that of a trequartista, Dybala has played in various attacking positions throughout the years. Starting out as a winger on the left of a trident, he became a central midfielder before his then-coach Dario Franco tried him out as false nine -- a role he deeply enjoyed.
At Juventus, the player is encouraged to demonstrate the beauty of his technique while his intelligence has allowed him to adapt to a tactically difficult league. While his body has suffered in adapting to the tough schedule that comes with playing for a trophy-chasing club, Dybala is enjoying his development and is proud of the fact he is often among the first names included in the starting lineup. The team believed in him from the very first day and offered him a platform to demonstrate his strengths in a safe environment, offered the sort of continuity youngsters rarely get at a big club.
Having already registered eight Serie A goals, six assists and four Champions League goals this season despite his injuries, Dybala directs Juve's attacking game and offers the ingenuity to a side often only recognised for its defensive might. Combining his youth and vitality with Juve's experience and grit has produced a winning and balanced side that is worthy of the Old Lady's legacy and reputation.
"I've been saying for a while that he is good enough to be in the top five players in the world and wouldn't be out of place in the top three," explained Buffon. "Having said that, he needs to prove it every time and with regularity, to show he is worthy of our expectations of him." Over to you, Dybala.
Mina Rzouki covers Juventus and the Italian national team for ESPN FC. Follow her on Twitter: @Minarzouki.