The Juventus ace dislikes the comparisons with his fellow Argentine but he announced himself as a truly special talent with a double against Barcelona
“It’s time!” read the mosaic unveiled just before kick-off in Turin. Time for one of the most eagerly-awaited encounters in Juventus’ history. Time for revenge over the side that had beaten them in the Champions League final in Berlin just two years previously.
However, it was also time for Paulo Dybala to announce himself as the game’s next global superstar, a player capable of rivalling Neymar for Ballon d’Or honours for years to come. Dybala did just that. He wasn’t just good. He was decisive, netting the opening two goals in a remarkable 3-0 win for the home side.
The Argentine has been known as ‘La Joya’ (The Jewel) since he first broke into the Instituto team as a teenager and his precious talent has never gone unrecognised in Italy.
When he arrived in Sicily in 2012, then Palermo president Maurizio Zamparini announced the signing of “The new Sergio Aguero”. As Dybala developed, though, Zamparini concluded that his prodigiously gifted attacker was even better than that: “He’s the new Leo Messi!”
Few people pay Zamparini much heed. His words are worth about as much as the contracts he used to give his coaches. However, Juve were in no doubt that Dybala was, indeed, something special, which is why they were willing to agree to pay Palermo €32 million for the forward, with a further €8m to follow in add-ons and performance-related bonuses.
Manchester United had been in the running but were unwilling to pay what looked to them like an exorbitant fee for a 21-year-old with arguably only one good Serie A season behind him. As was the case with Paul Pogba, United’s loss proved Juve’s considerable gain.
Dybala has proven a revelation in Turin, becoming an integral member of their starting line-up far quicker than anyone anticipated, including coach Massimiliano Allegri.
Last season, he dragged Juventus back into the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie with Bayern Munich by netting in their 2-2 draw in Turin. He missed the return leg through injury and the Bianconeri bowed out, denying him the opportunity to really stamp his mark on the game’s grandest stage.
There were flashes of his explosive brilliance in this season’s group stage but after a couple of subdued showings in the last-16 defeat of Porto (even if he did convert a penalty in the second leg), it was felt that Dybala needed to justify the hype in the quarter-final showdown with Barcelona. He had, after all, scored just three goals in 13 previous appearances in the Champions League.
It was clearly time for Dybala to show the watching world just why he has been so often compared to Messi. He didn’t hang about. After less than seven minutes of play, Dybala received a pass from Juan Cuadrado inside the Barca penalty area before swivelling and shooting in one seamless movement to leave Marc-Andre ter Stegen with no chance.
Then, just moments after Andres Iniesta had failed to give Lionel Messi’s perfect through-ball the finish it deserved, denied by an excellent reaction save by Gianluigi Buffon, Dybala struck again.
One could argue that Ter Stegen should not have conceded at his near post but the German was beaten by the pace of Dybala’s low whipped strike from the edge of the area.
Giorgio Chiellini made it 3-0 shortly before the hour, adding another interesting subplot to the remarkable story unfolding in Turin, with the defender not only outperforming but outscoring Luis Suarez, the striker who had infamously bit him at the 2014 World Cup.
The headlines, though, will be deservedly dominated by Dybala, who netted for the seventh home game in a row in all competitions.
The victory also meant that Juventus maintained their record of winning every game in which Dybala has scored this season (12). Instituto’s gem has also become the Old Lady’s lucky charm.
“Dybala has grown exponentially over the last two years,” captain Gianluigi Buffon told Mediaset Premium at full time. “When I talk to directors or friends in football, 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.
“Having said that, he needs to prove it every time and with regularity, to show he is worthy of our expectations of him.”
Dybala had done his best before the game to play down comparisons with his compatriot: “There is only one Messi. People need to understand that I am Paulo Dybala and I want to continue to be Paulo Dybala.”
The comparisons with Messi are only set to continue after a night like this but Dybala has, at least, also just taken a huge step towards establishing himself as a great player in his own right. It was time.