The Argentine’s dip in form has been attributed to an unprofessional attitude and there is now talk of the Bianconeri offloading him next summer
Amid all of the usual draw-ceremony pabulum in Nyon on December 11, Juventus vice-president Pavel Nedved offered a fascinating insight into the current state of the club’s relationship with star forward Paulo Dybala.
After discussing the Bianconeri’s prospects against last-16 opponents Tottenham Hotspur, the Czech was asked, almost as an after-thought, about the 24-year-old’s drastic dip in form after what had been a sensational start to the 2017-18 season.
“It can be normal to have highs and lows, at his age, but he knows that he has a club that is close to him that will support him in every eventuality,” Nedved told Sky Sport Italia.
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“The only advice I can give him is to always give his all in training, to make sacrifices in his private life. By doing this, he can become truly great.”
To the casual observer, it may have seemed like a rather innocuous statement; at worst, a mild slap on the wrist for a 24-year-old whose priorities had become a little skewed.
However, to those familiar with Juventus – and the way in which they operate – this was both a significant and startlingly strong public rebuke.
Even the fact Nedved was the accuser was telling. The former Ballon d’Or winner is a hugely important figure at Juventus, one who commands the respect of both the board and the dressing room, often serving as an intermediary between the two.
For him, of all people, to have openly called Dybala’s professionalism into question was indicative of just how disappointed and frustrated the major power-brokers at Juventus had become with the Argentine’s recent conduct.
The concern stems from Dybala’s decision to part company with long-time agent Pier Paolo Triulzi in September and put his older brother and former representative Gustavo back in charge of his affairs.
This move came just after Dybala’s break-up with girlfriend Antonella, whom he had been dating since his days at Palermo.
The upheaval in both his professional and private lives did not initially appear to have any adverse effect on the Argentina international, who was enjoying his new-found sense of importance having been handed the famed No.10 jersey at Juventus.
On the contrary, he kicked off his Serie A campaign with 10 goals in his first five games, sparking further comparisons with compatriot Lionel Messi.
However, Dybala has scored just three goals in all competitions since September 23, failing to net even once in Juve’s Champions League group games.
Allegri, for his part, hit out at the media for placing unfair expectations upon the attacker’s shoulders.
“I don’t think the media helped by making these comparisons [with Messi], which are frankly damaging,” the Bianconeri boss argued.
“You do it often to young players: they have a couple of good games and are called world-beaters. It’s not healthy.”
However, after dropping Dybala for Juve’s last two league games, against Inter and Bologna, Allegri also intimated that the Cordoba native had lost focus.
“Of course, every player is annoyed when he’s on the bench, the important thing is to react,” he acknowledged.
“But football is a team sport, you have to take away the ‘I’ and rely only on the ‘we’.
“Paulo’s talent is beyond doubt, but he also needs to be in good physical and psychological shape.”
The prevailing feeling in Turin is that Dybala has been unsettled by his brother.
The initial fear had been that the Barcelona-based Gustavo might immediately start advocating a long-mooted transfer to Catalunya but last week it was reported that he had met with Paris Saint-Germain officials in the French capital.
Gustavo has denied that any talks have taken place with the Ligue 1 outfit but negotiations with Juve over a contract extension certainly have stalled.
Image rights are the sticking point, with Dybala believing that he deserves a deal more befitting of a star player in an elite European team, which he felt that his brother Gustavo was more likely to secure for him than Triulzi.
Consequently, a money-spinning move to Paris Saint-Germain – or Real Madrid, who are looking for a new Galactico and feel that Dybala would fit the bill, both from a sporting and commercial perspective – cannot be discounted at this stage.
However, Juve are still optimistic about their chances of persuading Dybala to stay in Turin and they were enthused by him not only getting back among the goals against Genoa in the Coppa Italia on Wednesday night, but the dynamic nature of his display. In short, he looked like his old self.
As a cautious but clearly encouraged Allegri stated afterwards, “We all want Dybala to get back to being Dybala, as he’s an extraordinary player.
“He needed a good performance and a goal, as it can help him find some calm and confidence.
“But it’s not as if he ever truly lost his way.”
The relationship has by no means broken down and the Old Lady has even taken encouragement of the fact that Dybala has now been reunited with ex-girlfriend Antonella.
Indeed, it was no coincidence that the pair were seated at the presidential table alongside Andrea Agnelli for the Juventus Christmas dinner.
The hope among Juve fans now is that Dybala and the Old Lady have also taken the first step towards reconciling their own differences.