What does the future hold for Paulo Dybala?

Post contributed by Matt Brown

After reportedly almost being sold by Juventus to Manchester United in the summer, it seemed like anyone’s guess as to what the future held for Paulo Dybala.

At the time, his form was pretty average. He managed five goals and two assists in 30 Serie A games in 2018/19.

Evidently, Juventus thought long and hard about the transfer, reportedly as a part of a swap deal for Romelu Lukaku.

However, after refusing the transfer, Dybala has fought back, and now plays a key role in the first team. He has nearly matched last season’s goal tally in 18 fewer games.

After his winning free-kick against Atlético Madrid a week or so ago, Juventus manager Maurizio Sarri described the Argentine as “a different class”.

Dybala has been able to put in a big contribution with Ronaldo out of action.

This raises an interesting question. Why hasn’t the same happened with the national team and Messi?

After the 2018 World Cup and Messi stepping away, it seemed like the perfect chance for Dybala to shine. However, he hasn’t really been able to find his feet – no matter whether Messi is in the side or not.

What’s holding Dybala back?

From watching him play for his country of birth, it’s clear that Dybala often struggles to make his mark on the game.

It’s not that he’s not clinical enough, or is poor in possession. It’s just that he goes almost invisible – you can sometimes forget he’s on the pitch. He struggles to be involved, for whatever reason.

Some players just don’t live up to their potential when playing for their national team. It could be argued that Messi hasn’t lived up to expectations for Argentina – but it’s not his fault he was compared to Maradona from day one.

When you dedicate basically your whole life to your club’s success, it can be hard to suddenly get in the mindset for international football at the drop of the hat.

However, Dybala could really be doing so much better. He’s not a kid anymore – he recently turned 25 years old.

Also, he’s shown himself to have excellent mental strength. After refusing to go to Manchester United, Dybala has pretty much cemented himself in the Juve attack.

Completing this sort of turnaround isn’t easy to do – especially when your club basically tells you that they would like to swap you for someone else.

Dybala really suffers from being compared to Messi. At Juventus, the spotlight is well and truly on Ronaldo – allowing him to focus on his own game.

What’s next for Dybala on the national team?

Argentina is far from short of attacking options. Even in an upcoming post-Messi and post-Agüero age, there will still be plenty of choice up front for the Albiceleste.

However, Dybala has proven that he knows how to snag a spot in a first-team. And when he’s in such great domestic form, it’s very hard to justify permanently dropping him in favor of someone like Lautaro Martínez.

Therefore, as long as he stays among the goals for Juventus, Dybala will be a mainstay in the national team for the foreseeable future.

Thus far in his international career, Dybala has been forced to change his role on the team on a number of occasions.

When Messi is in the squad, he often takes Dybala’s preferred spot on the right-wing or as the right-hand-side second striker. In November against Uruguay for example, Dybala played a central attacking role.

However, once Messi eventually retires from international duties, Dybala may be able to focus on playing his preferred role on the right full-time.

Playing on the right on a consistent basis could give Dybala the focus he needs to begin contributing more to the national team in the future.

This would make a great fit for the squad, if Martinez were to continue playing centrally or as the left-sided striker, where he has excelled so far this year.

If he gets the chance to focus on developing his national team mindset and really making the position his before the World Cup, we could see great things from Dybala in Qatar.

Messi has stated that he is unsure whether he will feature at the tournament. However, whether he does play or not, Dybala is unlikely to have much time to settle into a right wing role before 2022, unless he can begin immediately.