Juventus want to keep Paulo Dybala, but only if he wants to stay
Before the Champions League final in June, Juventus general manager Beppe Marotta was asked to put a price on Paulo Dybala.
"I can't," Marotta told Tuttosport, and he had a very sensible explanation as to why.
"The price of a player is only established at the time of sale. If I had put a buyout clause in Paul Pogba's contract three years before we sold him, I would have said: €60 million will do nicely. But we ended up selling him for €110 million. Buyout clauses are madness. I will never include one in a player's contract. They put you in a position of weakness."
Juventus' rivals found this out to their detriment last summer when the Old Lady read the small print in Miralem Pjanic's and Gonzalo Higuain's contracts and found a loophole that left Roma and Napoli powerless to stop the exit of their best players. Both know exactly how Barcelona are feeling now after PSG called their bluff, activating Neymar's release clause and smashing the world transfer record in the process.
Now that the deal is done, attention is turning to how the Catalans react. Local papers, including El Mundo Deportivo, have polled their readers to find out who they'd most like to see the club spend the Neymar money on and the results have been fairly unanimous; Not Philippe Coutinho, Antoine Griezmann, Ousmane Dembele or Kylian Mbappe.
They want Dybala.
In light of that, Juventus' no buy-out clause policy looks wise. It's true that the Old Lady has a reputation for selling if the price is right, as they did with Pogba. So much so, in fact, that when asked in Miami last week if he is 100 percent staying at Juventus, Dybala said: "You'll have to ask the club." That's exactly what La Gazzetta dello Sport went and did and the answer they got couldn't have been more reassuring to Juventus fans.
"We're not selling," the source said. "Not even for all the gold in the Bank of Italy."
Dybala signed a new deal in April that's good through 2022, and the timing of it in hindsight feels poignant. It came shortly after his goal-scoring role in Barcelona's elimination from the Champions League, a virtuoso performance that raised Dybala's profile to another level. The new contract came barely 18 months after he joined the club and made him the highest paid player on the Bianconeri's books, along with Gonzalo Higuain.
A show of respect from Juventus, Dybala's entourage also appreciated the time afforded by the club to announce it concurrently with the launch of his new logo and other Dybala-mask branded merchandise. "There will be projects in common," Marotta said in May, "and the intention is to go on a long journey together." Tuttosport called the project "alla Del Piero." But in this day and age it remains to be seen whether Dybala stays, as the aforementioned Juventus icon did, until his 37th birthday. Eventually, even he was shown the door.
Juventus are one of the least sentimental clubs in football. They're pragmatic, realistic and understand that they cannot expect loyalty in today's game. Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo moved on in 2015. Alvaro Morata and Pogba did the same in 2016. Juventus moved on, too, just as they will after the departures of Leonardo Bonucci and Dani Alves. As in the late '90s and early 2000s, the players change but the club stays the same. It keeps winning.
The fascinating thing about this summer is the partial and indirect role Dybala may have had on the exits of Bonucci and Alves. Much was made of a reported bust-up at half-time of the Champions League final during which Bonucci supposedly criticised Dybala for pulling out challenges after being booked early on. Alves apparently came to his defence and would later go on Brazilian TV and recommend he leave Juventus, a piece of advice that did not go down well with the club.
While the story has been denied by Marotta and the dressing room senators, La Repubblica and La Stampa have tellingly stood by it. If their account is true, it still remains unclear if this really was the final straw regarding Bonucci and definitively made Alves' mind up, after just one year, that a better time could be had elsewhere. In Alves' case, the chance, at 34, to double his annual salary to 7m, play with a host of compatriots in a World Cup year and be part of the sales pitch to attract former teammate Neymar to PSG was probably more what swung it, even though it is also true he was considering offers from the Premier League, most notably from Pep and Manchester City.
What emerges from all of this is Dybala's absolute centrality to Juventus' project. "I believe Paulo will stay," Gigi Buffon said, "and takes Juve to places where we have still yet to go." Like Kiev, for instance, where they hope to win the Champions League trophy next May.
For now, the sales are over at the Juventus and the shutters down, at least as far as their big-name first-team players are concerned. The expectation is Alex Sandro will stay, notwithstanding Chelsea's repeated overtures for him, and Dybala will too, even in anticipation of a bid from Barcelona. How unprepared Barcelona were for Neymar's exit, as detailed by Graham Hunter, would also indicate that they have nothing organised or advanced for his succession. He was the youngest of the MSN, after all, and with everyone aware of the €222m burning a hole in their pockets, another consequence of Neymar's decision to leave will be to inflate the prices of whoever Barcelona decide his successor to be.
If it's Dybala, they're likely to be disappointed in the short-term. From Juventus' perspective we're in August now, too late in the window to contemplate the sale of a player of his calibre and too soon after the Bonucci and Alves exits. That said, Juventus have one rule when it comes to squad management. They will never keep a player against their will. Just as with Pogba in 2015, though, this may lead to a promise that Dybala can leave the following summer, buying Juventus time to plan for the eventuality and get an eye-watering deal they'd be prepared to accept.
"I can't hold a gun to his head to persuade him," Higuain said on the subject of Dybala's future last month. For now, though, Dybala doesn't need persuading. "I am happy and settled" in Turin, he insists.
James covers the Italian Serie A and European football for ESPN FC Follow him on Twitter @JamesHorncastle.