Are Juventus throwing away over €90m by giving injury-prone Dybala a new contract?

Paulo Dybala Juventus 2021-22Getty/GOAL

Juventus fans are well used to seeing Paulo Dybala cover his face.

The Juventus No.10 famously celebrates his goals by 'putting on' a mask in tribute to his favourite movie, 'Gladiator'.

However, against Sampdoria on September 26, Dybala was trying solely to hide his tears.

Just over 20 minutes had been played in the game at the Allianz Stadium when the Argentine felt an all-too-familiar pain.

His pre-season preparations had been interrupted by a thigh problem which sidelined him for nearly three weeks. So, when Dybala felt a twinge in the same area against Sampdoria, he was understandably distraught.

Sadly, things have not gone much better for him in the interim.

The forward suffered a calf injury while on international duty in November and then, just last weekend, was forced off 12 minutes into Juve's clash with Venezia.

The timing could not have been worse.

The primary problem is that Juve are presently struggling to keep up with the top four sides in Serie A, with the Bianconeri slipping to seventh in the standings after their dismal draw in Venice, so they need all the help they can get right now, particularly in attack.

However, there was also the fact that Dybala was, as GOAL revealed, just about to put pen to paper on a five-year contract extension worth €10 million net per annum (€8.5m plus €1.5m in bonuses).

Unsurprisingly, the wisdom of such a deal is now under intense scrutiny, given the overall package would amount to approximately €92.5m (£79m/$104m) including tax.

Paulo Dybala Juventus mask 2019 GFX
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Dybala is, of course, beloved by Bianconeri fans, who even launched a social media campaign in a desperate bid to persuade their club to keep him when it appeared that the attacker was set to move to the Manchester United in 2019.

Their fondness is understandable too. On his day, Dybala is a devastating attacking talent, a fantastic dribbler blessed with a lethal left foot.

When he scored two goals in Juve's thrilling 3-0 win over Lionel Messi's Barcelona in 2017, it very much looked like a world star had been born.

Of course, the immediate talk of a baton being passed that night in Turin was desperately premature, but there was no denying Dybala's potential.

However, while he stepped up another level over the course of the following year, netting a career-high 26 goals in all competitions in 2017-18, his progress has since stalled, and for two reasons.

Firstly, Dybala became a tactical dilemma. There was confusion over where best to deploy him.

As former Italy international Antonio Cassano once said on Bobo TV, "None of his Juve coaches have ever considered him essential, so I wonder if he is really a champion. He doesn't make the difference."

He has often looked utterly unsuited to a modern 4-3-3, and yet even when utilised as a classic No.10, he has admitted himself that he struggles "to get the ball in between the lines against defensive teams".

Paulo Dybala Lionel Messi Juventus Barcelona 2017 GFX
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There's also the fact that he has proven incompatible with two all-time legends. Dybala always said he was "lucky" to be able to play alongside both Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi, for Juve and Argentina, respectively, but it has arguably proven his great misfortune.

He always appeared too similar to Messi, of course, given the pair both like to take up attacking positions on the right-hand side so that they can cut in on to their favoured left feet, but it was a surprise that he never quite gelled with the very different Ronaldo, especially as they clicked off the field.

Regardless, the net result was that Dybala was no longer a guaranteed starter at Juve by the end of Massimo Allegri's first spell as coach, in 2018-19.

However, there is no denying that the Old Lady needs him now.

Indeed, it is worth remembering that after Ronaldo's shock departure just before the close of the transfer window, captain Giorgio Chiellini told DAZN: "We move forward. This will be Paulo Dybala's team now.

"His numbers dipped a little because of the presence of Ronaldo, but he is the key player for this team and all of us recognise that."

Paulo Dybala Cristiano Ronaldo Juventus 2021 GFX
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Dybala has done his best to assume the mantle of a true team leader. Even though his game time has been limited by his fitness issues, he remains Juve's top scorer (eight) and no other player in the squad has racked up more assists (four, level with Federico Bernardeschi).

With Juve struggling to both create and finish chances, which many would attribute to Allegri's conservative tactics, Dybala's importance is obvious, and also explains why he started against Venezia despite being taken off at half-time against Malmo – just three days previously.

"We took a risk," Allegri admitted to DAZN, "And it went badly."

And this leads us back to the second issue with Dybala: his physical condition.

Dybala was desperately unfortunate to suffer ligament damage in January of this year, but it is worth remembering that he missed the start of the 2020-21 campaign with muscular problems which have repeatedly resurfaced.

Juve's willingness to tie down a player that will be out of contract next summer is, of course, understandable.

Losing a player of Dybala's undoubted quality for nothing would be desperately tough to take and, as it stands, he is free to talk to other clubs in just over a fortnight.

Time, then, is of the essence, which is why the protracted negotiations over his renewal are expected to be wrapped up before Christmas.

However, many fans, ex-players and pundits are wondering if cash-strapped Juve should be committing just under €100m (£87m/$118m) in gross wages to keeping a 28-year-old with a worsening injury record, even if the reported appearance-related clauses mentioned in the press this week have been inserted into the new agreement.

Paulo Dybala Juventus injury GFX
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The Bianconeri could, of course, be merely looking to ensure they secure a lofty transfer fee for Dybala should they decide to sell him next summer.

But again, the question needs to be asked: right now, who would pay top dollar for an injury-plagued player in a footballing economy still devastated by the effects of Covid-19?

Unless a significant amount of Dybala's new salary would be directly linked to appearances, the Bianconeri risk making yet another very costly mistake.

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Dybala being Dybala, he will be determined to return as quickly as possible to prove his worth to a club, or at least a fanbase, that he clearly loves.

The reason for the Gladiator mask, after all, is that he says the film got him through tough times, teaching him that "you always have to fight".

The very real fear, though, is that no matter how he tries, his ongoing fitness battle will only end in further tears.