By Adam Digby (@Adz77)
Max Allegri always knew. The Tuscan Coach is often the coolest and calmest man in the room, and even when Juventus seemed set for a disastrous 2015/16, he was clearly aware of the ability his squad possessed. While most would crack under the pressure of what looked to be a failed attempt to rebuild a team that had won four consecutive Serie A titles, he remained confident that not only could the Bianconeri overcome the loss of Carlos Tevez, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, they could thrive in their absence.
In the Old Lady's darkest hour – as she sat in twelfth place after winning just three of her opening ten league games – veteran leaders like Gigi Buffon and Patrice Evra would come to the fore, leaving the club's new signings with no uncertainty about what was expected of them. The goalkeeper and club captain admitted their performances “hurt my soul,” while the French international said the players had a duty to respect the club's famous black and white shirts after accusing them of failing to do so up until that point.
The result of those two scathing interviews has been well documented, Juventus reeling off a staggering run of 25 victories in their next 26 domestic outings. In doing so they won a record-equalling fifth-consecutive Scudetto, added the Coppa Italia for good measure and have yet to concede a goal at home in 2016.
Buffon and the defenders ahead of him – Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli, Giorgio Chiellini, Stephan Lichtsteiner and Evra – rightly received widespread acclaim, and all six have travelled with their respective nations to the European Championships.
Yet Paulo Dybala, who did more than anyone else on the field to fire the Bianconeri to unprecedented glory, is set to spend his summer watching international football on television. He was overlooked by Argentina for the Copa América Centenario despite an incredible debut campaign in Turin, and Juve have subsequently refused him permission to be part of the Albiceleste squad for the Olympics in Brazil.
“I regret having not been called up for the Copa América because I already knew the club would not release me for Rio,” he said in a recent interview with DirecTV. “I wanted to be in the United States, but you have to respect the Coach's decision. It's difficult to form an attack with all these phenomena.”
On the surface it is difficult to argue with that assessment as Gerardo Matino has a plethora of star strikers at his disposal. His 23-man squad includes five-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi, former Premier League Golden Boot winner Sergio Agüero and Gonzalo Higuain, the latter fresh from netting 36 goals in just 35 Serie A games for Napoli.
But on the evidence of the season just finished, there is still a strong argument to be made for finding a place for Dybala. The 22 year old joined Juventus last summer in a deal worth €32 million – with a potential further €8 million in incentive-related extras – yet he has, even at such a high price, looked a relative bargain.
In terms of raw statistics, he weighed in with 23 goals and nine assists in all competitions but even those figures do not fully explain his importance to his new side. Nor does the knowledge that the former Palermo man found the net in the biggest matches, including the Supercoppa Italiana triumph against Lazio, Serie A victories against AC Milan, Fiorentina, AS Roma, Inter and cross-town rivals Torino, plus the Champions League clash with Bayern Munich.
Indeed, his impact this term can be summed up far more succinctly; Dybala's presence has ensured Juventus did not miss Carlos Tevez.
His compatriot enjoyed two phenomenal seasons with the Bianconeri, routinely destroying defences and firing them to a first domestic double in two decades. He did so while wearing the number ten shirt of club legend Alessandro Del Piero, yet his play meant that was never a controversial issue, netting 50 goals in just 95 appearances.
His replacement has matched that output, whilst also adding some much-needed creativity to the team's build-up play and never allowing opposing defences a moment to settle. Juventus received much criticism for integrating him slowly, but Stephan El Shaarawy - who enjoyed a similar burst to prominence under the Coach at Milan - insisted his former boss judged the situation perfectly.
“Allegri did a good job with me and I think he's doing it with Dybala,” the As Roma striker told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “With young people it takes patience, then if they are good they have another 16 years to play.” That last comment hammers home just what the Bianconeri achieved this past season, winning yet another title while putting together a squad that can continue to contend for a long time to come.
Of their ten summer signings, no fewer than half- Simone Zaza, Mario Lemina, Alex Sandro, Daniele Rugani and Dybala - were under the age of 24. With Alvaro Morata, Stefano Sturaro and Paul Pogba all 23 years old, it bodes well for the future, a future their new Argentinian star is determined to remain a part of.
“Could I become like Alessandro Del Piero and Gigi Buffon? Yes, I can picture that. Their story fascinates me: 20 years with the same shirt makes you a monument," Dybala told Tuttosport last month. “I cannot promise it, because this is not only up to me, but it would be wonderful to win what they’ve won and stay at Juventus forever.” His performances mean the Bianconeri hierarchy will undoubtedly keep tight hold of the man dubbed La Joya – “The Jewel” – for as long as possible.
Dybala has brought joy to Juventus, his magical left foot delivering some breath-taking goals, while his wonderful skill on the ball allows him to leave defenders trailing in his wake and delight the Bianconeri faithful. Argentina might have opted to ignore it, but the rest of the world is becoming acutely aware of just how good he has become.
Fortunately for Juventus, Max Allegri always knew.