Would Paulo Dybala Exit Be a Death Knell for Juventus and Italian Football?

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistAugust 10, 2017

FOXBORO, MA - JULY 30:  Paulo Dybala of Juventus in action during the International Champions Cup 2017 match between AS Roma and Juventus at Gillette Stadium on July 30, 2017 in Foxboro, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Getty Images)
Daniele Badolato - Juventus FC/Getty Images

OK, who's next? That is the burning question for Barcelona following Neymar's departure to Paris Saint-Germain. But among the possible answers is an option that could have major consequences for Juventus and even Italian football as a whole.

With the Brazilian's £200 million buyout fee paid by the Ligue 1 side, Barca have been left in something of an awkward predicament. They need to replace Neymar and reconfigure the team now the MSN strike force has been torn apart, but every other club in the world is aware of both their desperation and the exact amount of money they have to spend.

Finding a new face to line up alongside Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi will not be easy, and it almost certainly will not be cheap. Philippe Coutinho emerged as a favourite, with South American football expert Tim Vickery recently telling Sky Sports that he had always seen the Liverpool man as an ideal replacement for his Brazil team-mate.

However, Andy Hunter of the Guardian reported that Premier League club, manager Jurgen Klopp and owner Fenway Sports Group are all "adamant Coutinho will not be sold this summer."

That has prompted talk of alternatives, including Borussia Dortmund forward Ousmane Dembele, who admitted feeling a sense of pride in being linked with a move to Camp Nou. "I've seen it in the press, and it's a great club," he told Spanish television channel Gol (h/t FourFourTwo). "All players would like to play in a team like that. It's a pleasure to be able to see your name on the list of players that Barca wants. We'll see what happens."

Chelsea's Eden Hazard and AS Monaco starlet Kylian Mbappe have also been mentioned, but worryingly for Juventus, Argentinian star Paulo Dybala has become a focus of the Catalan club's attention, according to Mundo Deportivo (h/t ESPN FC).

The Turin giants have suffered a major talent drain over the past three summers, and that has led many to question just how big a blow it would be should the 23-year-old join Barcelona.

In 2015, Arturo Vidal, Andrea Pirlo and Kingsley Coman departed, followed a year later by Paul Pogba and Alvaro Morata. The Bianconeri have already watched Dani Alves and, most shockingly, Leonardo Bonucci walk away this year, with the latter's exit to rivals AC Milan one of the most unexpected transfers in recent memory.

That trend has unquestionably alarmed supporters of the Old Lady. Maurizio Giovannelli is a lifelong fan and a season-ticket holder in the Curva Sud, and the steady stream of players turning their backs on the club has certainly prompted concern.

"It would for sure have a huge impact if Dybala left now, just few days before the end of the transfer session," he told Bleacher Report. "However, Juventus built a tremendously solid team in recent years, able to overcome the departure of top players like Pogba, Vidal, Pirlo and Tevez. We keep winning.

"But if and when Dybala leaves—because sooner or later, he will—we could replace him with Federico Bernardeschi, hoping that the young and talented Italian will follow in Dybala's footsteps.

"But Juventus should try to keep him at any cost. Dybala is a rising star, and together with Neymar, Antoine Griezmann and few more...will dominate the scene in the next 10 years, helping the club to grow the brand's value as well."

That frank admission is one shared by many fans, who all seem to accept that the former Palermo forward will one day wear a different shirt, continuing a theme raised by Juventus president Andrea Agnelli back in 2013.

Juve President Andrea Agnelli has been critical of Serie A for years.
Juve President Andrea Agnelli has been critical of Serie A for years.ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/Getty Images

"If you go back about 10 or 15 years, it was the dream of every international footballer to come to Serie A," he told delegates at the Leaders in Football conference, per Mike Collett of Reuters. "It was the destination for top players. When I was a kid studying here in England, you used to watch live Serie A games broadcast here. The English League was not what it is today."

He added that "from a football point of view, Serie A was no longer the final destination for players but a transitory destination" before going on to make a prophetic and poignant point.

"Where will we be in two or three years? Will we be able to keep players like Paul Pogba, for example?" Agnelli pondered. "I don't think we have the economic strength to retain such a player."

Juventus received a world-record fee when Pogba returned to Manchester United for £89 million last summer and would undoubtedly ask Barca for even more should Dybala look to follow suit. But it is surely time for the sales of star names to end if the Bianconeri are to become a true rival to Real Madrid, Barcelona and Bayern Munich.

"Juventus' policy of the player's will being the determining factor in transfers has been a double-edged sword," David Amoyal of GianlucaDiMarzio.com told Bleacher Report. "Letting Tevez go back home to Argentina, even though he was under contract, may have shown players like Dani Alves that if they join the Bianconeri, they will be treated with respect rather than just as an asset.

"But after losing Vidal, Pogba and Bonucci in consecutive summers, it wouldn't be unfair to say this policy has also hurt Juve.

"Just compare them to PSG and Bayern Munich—two clubs also competing in what many would describe as one-team leagues like Serie A—but who simply refused to negotiate the sales of stars like Marco Verratti and Robert Lewandowski."

As for the rest of the league, it is not seen as being as harmful as it has been to the Old Lady, with Romeo Agresti of in-house television channel JTV casting his eye over the rest of Serie A.

Bayern Munich would not allow Robert Lewandowski to leave.
Bayern Munich would not allow Robert Lewandowski to leave.CHRISTOF STACHE/Getty Images

"It will be interesting to see whether AS Roma will be able to change the trend of losing two or three big names each summer if they are able to finally get a new stadium," he told Bleacher Report. "Napoli has certainly shown the ability to retain top players, aside from Gonzalo Higuain, who had an exit clause. And Inter haven't lost a significant player since Mateo Kovacic in 2015. We also don’t know whether Milan can keep spending at the rate from this summer in coming years, but they seem set to be a force once again."

That assessment rings true, with Dries Mertens and Lorenzo Insigne agreeing new contracts with Napoli. AS Roma's Radja Nainggolan did the same despite interest from Chelsea and Manchester United, per Luke Brown of The Independent.

Stefan de Vrij remains a Lazio player, while Andrea Belotti has stayed at Torino despite proving himself to be an elite goalscorer. The same is true of Inter's Mauro Icardi—a player discussed at length in a previous post—and Domenico Berardi of Sassuolo, making this appear to only be a problem for Juventus.

"If Juventus want to win the Champions League, they have to keep Dybala," Agresti stated. "In the 1990s, Juve had more money. They had the best players. Now we buy second-rate players or young talent and hope they can become champions. There are no solutions other than stop selling the elite players we do have."

There is no more to say than that. The club announced on Wednesday that Dybala will wear the iconic No. 10 shirt this season, which indicates a strong intention to retain him. But Pogba was gone within 12 months of receiving the same honour.

Selling the Argentinian in a similar manner would undoubtedly allow the likes of Roma, Napoli and Milan to close the gap, meaning it would benefit Serie A in general. But there is no doubt losing Dybala would be a major blow to Juventus as they seek European glory once again.

Because who's next?

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