The making of Juventus’ Champions League star Paulo Dybala


Maurizio Zamparini doesn’t do things by half measures. The former owner of Italian club Palermo is at best ‘eccentric’ and at worst the cause for the club’s never-ending instability. One of the many characters of Italian football, he was never short of outlandish remarks. 

“Dybala is not Sergio Aguero but the new [Lionel] Messi," said Zamparini in 2015. “He’s not an out-and-out striker, but operates in every area of the field, like Messi. Will he stay? No, because the player and his agent aspire to a big club, and they’re right to do so. I’ve already received at least four offers.”

Born in Laguna Larga, in Cordoba, Argentina, Dybala was a graduate of local club Instituto, one of the city’s two big clubs. The recent relegation of River Plate had cast more eyes onto Argentina’s second tier, but it was Dybala that stole the show early on. Netting 12 goals in the team’s first 19 games, Dybala had already done enough to draw interest from Liverpool, PSG, and Inter Milan among others.

However, just as things were looking smooth, the issue of Dybala’s economic rights surfaced. A somewhat typical occurrence in South American football, Gustavo Mascardi claimed he owned the player’s economic rights, and in spring 2012 confirmed he had sold them. 

"Instituto gave their consent,” Mascardi said. “He should leave once the championship has finished, but we can negotiate to see if he can come earlier.”

Understandably, Instituto were infuriated and as the season climaxed Dybala failed to find the net in his last eight games — his future played out in public like a broken violin. Instituto eventually slipped into third, and under a cloud, Dybala left for Sicily and Zamparini. 

The teenager’s first season in Italy was unspectacular — three goals and relegation to Serie B. In Argentina, the situation regarding his economic rights had taken a scandalous turn. Mascardi was alleged to have been involved in a money laundering ring that bought players with dirty money before selling them for clean money. 

As if the teenager did not have enough issues to cause sleepless nights, his decision to sign with Nike was said to have infuriated the Argentine FA, who themselves were an Adidas property. 

Now in Italy’s second tier, Dybala continued to fly under the radar in terms of goalscoring. Palermo romped to promotion, (some 14 points clear of Empoli in second) but Dybala netted a modest five league goals. In his third season things quickly escalated. Playing in a 3-5-2 formation, Dybala finished the campaign as Palermo’s top scorer with 13, and was a terror alongside fellow South American import Franco Vazquez. 

As Zamparini had pointed out, Dybala seemed less a pure forward and more deep lying. The Argentine also ended the 2014-2015 season with an impressive 10 assists in Serie A, as the club finished comfortably in mid-table. Zamparini, likely sniffing a financial windfall, began talking him up again, and after overt negotiations with Juventus Dybala moved to Turin for an initial €32million.  

Dybala’s first season at Juve saw him record 19 goals in 34 Serie A matches as the Old Lady romped to their fifth straight league title.


This season has been somewhat different though. Playing 300 fewer minutes in Serie A, the goals have not been as plentiful. Yet where he has been a difference maker is in Europe. Ten Champions League appearances have returned four goals, including a brace in the 3-0 aggregate win over Barcelona. “Not conceding against a team like Barcelona is not easy," Dybala said after the 3-0 first leg win. "We are very happy with this achievement against such a great side.”

Of course, Juventus knew what they were buying in the boy nicknamed La Joya — The Jewel. Messi is the obvious comparison, but there are also elements of Carlos Tevez in his game, even if he does tend to inhabit a deeper position. Team-mate Dani Alves explained exactly why Dybala is so unique though, and why Juve likely sought him out.

“In training one day, I saw something in Dybala that I had seen before in Messi,” Alves wrote for the Players’ Tribune. “It was not just the gift of pure talent. I have seen that many times in my life. It was the gift of pure talent combined with the will to conquer the world.”

Saturday night in Cardiff against Real Madrid will present Dybala with the chance to conquer Europe for the first time, and then potentially the world after that. Whether he can also translate that success to his time with Argentina remains to be seen, but rest assured Zamparini will likely have an opinion on that too.