Once there, the players split off into groups, to nurse their pain and, in private inquests, dissect what had happened. Dani Alves later said that he and his fellow defender Leonardo Bonucci had stayed up talking until 6 a.m. What hurt the most, Dybala said, was that Juventus had gone into that game believing it was the “best team in the world.”
“We had beaten very important teams on the way,” he said. “We had never conceded more than two goals, and they scored three in 45 minutes. It was 45 minutes when we were not ourselves, 45 minutes that destroyed everything.”
The Spanish word Dybala, 23, uses today to describe his revived Champions League ambitions — revancha — technically, in this context, means “rematch.” But the way he uses it is more literal: revenge.
“In football, you always have the chance for revancha,” he said. “There is a phrase in Argentina: it is an espina clavada, a thorn in your side, something that hurts you. The pain of losing that final will be with me until I lift that trophy. I will be a lot calmer then.”
New Year, New Number
A couple of weeks before the new Italian season, which opens this weekend, Juventus confirmed that it would be changing the number on Dybala’s jersey. Ever since he joined the club from Palermo, he had worn 21. It had a special resonance for him: He had inherited it from Andrea Pirlo, one of his heroes, and a player whose framed, unwashed Juventus jersey takes pride of place in the living room of Dybala’s apartment in Turin.
This season, though, Dybala will wear an even more significant number for Juventus: 10. It is a jersey laden with history, stretching back through Alessandro Del Piero, Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini and further. “Enjoy it, from a true Juventus fan,” Del Piero tweeted when the news was announced.
Jerseys are important to Dybala. He has a collection of more than 300, spread out among his homes in Italy and Argentina. Some of the more meaningful ones are stored under the watchful eye of his mother, who has moved to live near him in Turin.
Among their number is the jersey Lionel Messi gave Dybala in April, at halftime of Juventus’s 3-0 win over Barcelona in the Champions League quarterfinals. Dybala had signaled his desire to swap jerseys with Messi, a teammate with Argentina, and a friend, before the match. Within 22 minutes, Dybala had scored twice, and Barcelona was on the ropes.
“It can be hard, swapping jerseys when you are losing,” Dybala said. “You are in a bad mood, you are not thinking of these things. But Leo is a good person; he knew before that I wanted it, so he came up to me at halftime and said there was no problem.”
In hindsight, it feels a little like the passing of a baton, too — on a collective level, because that performance, more than any other, convinced Juventus it now firmly belonged in the elite ranks of European teams, the equal of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich; and on an individual one, too, because there are many who feel that when Messi eventually starts to fade, it is Dybala who will take his place. Certainly for Argentina, and maybe, just maybe, for Barcelona, too.
Indeed, that has been one of the features of Dybala’s summer. Ever since Paris St.-Germain signaled its intention to entice Neymar to the French capital, Dybala’s phone has been inundated with messages from friends and family members asking if he will take the Brazilian’s place alongside Messi.
“In my position, I know they are rumors,” Dybala said. “I see what is on the TV and in the newspapers, but my friends, my family, people in Córdoba, they see them, consume them and assume it is all true, that tomorrow I am going to Barcelona or Real Madrid. They all write to me: ‘Are you going?’ ’Are you staying?’ “Will you play for Barcelona?’ It is hard to explain to them how these things happen, how there is all of this information.”
He has, somehow, managed to retain his good humor in the eye of the storm. He is flattered to be mentioned in news reports, but readily points out that in his eyes, “Juventus is a great club,” on the same level as Barcelona. He adds that his contract does not contain a release clause. Everything, really, is up to Juventus.
He can even joke about it. Asked if there is any truth in the rumors, he looks solemn and says, “Yes, I am going to Barcelona,” before melting into laughter. Later, he will obliquely refer to his desire to win the Champions League with “whichever team I am playing for,” before giggling again.
“What happened with Neymar will move things,” he said. “Everyone is waiting to find out who will come to replace him. Many journalists say Philippe Coutinho, or Ousmane Dembélé, or Antoine Griezmann.”
Many, though, have said Paulo Dybala, too. It feels, from the outside, as if Juventus gave him that coveted No. 10 jersey at least in part to reaffirm its determination to stave off Barcelona. It is a measure of where Dybala is, the company he keeps, of what he means.
The Search for Rivals
The path Dybala has taken to this point is, by modern standards, unconventional. Unlike his peers in that generation that will follow Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo as the finest players in the world — Neymar, Paul Pogba, Dembélé, Kylian Mbappé — Dybala has followed a road to stardom that has been a little more winding, a little less illuminated.
Because his first club as a professional, Instituto, missed out on promotion in his only season, he never played in the top flight in Argentina.
“People said I needed to do that before going to Europe,” Dybala said, but he ignored them and crossed the ocean, not “for a team full of stars, but one where I might find my place” — for Palermo, one of Serie A’s lesser lights.
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