Paulo Dybala was hugely impressive last season, notching 13 goals and 10 assists in his first campaign as a regular in the Italian top flight, swiftly prompting Juventus to secure his signature soon after 2014/15 came to an end.
The Palermo forward did not come cheap however, with the Serie A champions revealing via their official website that they had paid €32 million—with potentially a further €8 million in bonuses—to bring him to Turin.
In that same announcement, the Bianconeri noted that Dybala had agreed to a five-year contract, and the player clearly has the best years of his career ahead of him. Understanding the value of that entire deal is a complex matter, but by breaking it down into a number of smaller details, the bigger picture of just what a steal Juventus have made becomes clear.
First of all, the most obvious point is his age. The 21-year-old has huge potential, and given that transfer fees continue to skyrocket, getting him this early undoubtedly ensures the grand Old Lady has paid the best possible price.
With his tender age comes the ability to improve and realise just how good he can become, and reflecting on his impressive year with Palermo offers some insight into that.
Looking first at the variety of goals Dybala scored, any compilation of his finishing includes deft chips, well-executed volleys and thunderous efforts, all of which left opposing goalkeepers clutching at thin air and powerless to prevent him scoring.
Yet what also becomes instantly apparent is that the source of each is exactly the same: Dybala’s magical left foot. As the graphic above from Squawka.com shows, each of his 13 strikes came that way, and as he works on other areas of his game, it is difficult not to see his goal tally rising quickly.
To do that he will need to quickly improve his heading ability, with statistics courtesy of WhoScored.com show Dybala won just 0.4 headed duels per game, with Squawka highlighting that equated to just 14 of the 80 such challenges (18 percent) he contested last term.
Putting that into context, Carlos Tevez—who at 1.73 meters (5'8'') is four centimeters shorter than Dybala—won just two aerial battles in 2014/15, according to Squawka’s figures, but the same source shows he did find the back of the net with a header.
What must also be noted is that while he proved effective he is with his left foot, there is room to improve there too. Dybala found the target with just 44 percent of his shot attempts, with the graphic below showing both how that fares against his new team-mates and the work needed to stand out in that area.
The comparison to Tevez is one that will regularly come to the fore, with one Argentinian striker having directly replaced another at Juventus, and while it is patently unfair on Dybala to pit him against such an accomplished star, there is a deeper-lying reason for it.
As can be seen below, Opta rated the duo as Serie A’s leading strikers across all statistical categories last season. Clearly it is a huge leap to expect Dybala to bridge the void Tevez has left behind, but it is one the player himself appears determined to go some way towards filling as he spoke at his inaugural Juventus press conference.
“Playing for a great club like Juventus represents an important step for me,” Dybala said per the club’s official website. “I hope to develop both as a player and as a person and to become a key member of the team.”
He has chosen to do so wearing the No. 21 shirt vacated by another Juventus idol, with Andrea Pirlo’s decision to move to MLS side New York City FC leaving it open for the club’s most expensive summer addition. The absence of the bearded genius will leave La Madama in need of invention from her remaining players, and Dybala is arguably best placed among Massimiliano Allegri’s squad to provide that.
No player in Serie A bettered his tally of 10 assists, and as the graphic below—courtesy of Squawka.com—shows, the former Palermo man created far more scoring opportunities than any other member of the squad.
Another player may yet arrive to shoulder some of that burden, although the club’s director general Beppe Marotta told Quotidiano Sportivo (h/t Football Italia) that Juventus “will never sign” Oscar of Chelsea or Real Madrid’s Isco. Yet he was keen to note the versatility of the Argentinian as he discussed his plans for the remainder of the transfer window in that same interview.
“We are looking for a midfielder numerically, not with any specific qualities, but in the context of a very eclectic midfield which includes [Paul] Pogba, [Claudio] Marchisio, [Sami] Khedira and [Roberto] Pereyra,” the club official noted. “Dybala could play as a trequartista.”
While that would not be a long-term solution, it is clear the striker has the attributes to provide cover in a more withdrawn role, a fact that only adds to the feeling that Juventus appear to have made a smart acquisition despite that large initial fee.
That the move comes in the same summer that Manchester City paid £44 million for Raheem Sterling (h/t BBC Sport) puts it firmly into perspective. The fee paid to Liverpool works out at just over €62.5 million at today’s exchange rate, almost double the sum given to Palermo for a player only 13 months Dybala’s junior.
As discussed in this previous column, given the improved quality of the players around him, it is reasonable to expect that Juventus could see his output rise to around 15 goals in the new campaign and go even higher in the seasons to come.
Clearly far from realising his vast potential, there is huge scope for Dybala to improve substantially over the course of his initial contract with the club, and he could one day blossom into the kind of talismanic star that Tevez so clearly was. One major facet the latter brought to the pitch was his infectious work ethic, harassing defenders and looking to win back possession as quickly as possible.
According to WhoScored, the Boca Juniors star averaged 0.8 tackles and 0.3 interceptions in his final season in Italy, with the same source showing Dybala registered 0.7 and 0.5 in those respective categories. That hints at a similar willingness to work and is a trait which Allegri is almost certain to demand the younger man delivers every time he steps on the field.
Those skills and desire for improvement bode well for the future and indicate that, despite the huge transfer fee paid for him, Paulo Dybala could yet prove to be a huge steal for Juventus.