First came the frustration.
As Cristiano Ronaldo realised that his dream of a fourth consecutive Champions League was dying, he lashed out at Joel Veltman, chopping the Ajax defender down in the dying seconds of Tuesday’s 2-1 loss in Turin.
Then came the resignation.
Speaking to his mother after Juve’s quarter-final elimination, he accepted his own limitations. “I can’t do miracles,” he told Dolores Aveiro.
Even the five-time Ballon d’Or winner conceded that if he is to lead Juve to a first European Cup success since 1996, he will need a stronger supporting cast.
In fact, according to the Gazzetta dello Sport , he is demanding one: “Ronaldo furious; he expects reinforcements” their front-page headline read.
Juve, though, are not Manchester City or Paris Saint-Germain. Their hopes of European glory are not funded by a bottomless well of oil-money located in states with questionable human rights records.
What’s more, last summer the Old Lady committed approximately €340 million (£290m/$380m) to signing Ronaldo himself.
If Andrea Agnelli and his fellow Bianconeri board members are to significantly strengthen Massimiliano Allegri’s squad, they will need to raise money by cashing in some of their most valuable assets.
Paulo Dybala is likely to be one of those sacrificed – primarily because this is still Massimiliano Allegri’s squad.
Tuesday night was bitterly disappointing for everyone connected with Juve, but particularly Dybala.
Handed the captain’s armband for second-leg showdown with Ajax, this could have been the night that kick-started his Juve career. Instead, it could well signal its end.
Dybala was forced off with injury at half-time with a minor thigh problem and is now facing a fortnight on the sidelines.
With Juve having already wrapped up the Serie A title, he may not play another meaningful game for the club – as Allegri intends to see out the final year of his contract. Crucially, the coach seems to have the support of club president Agnelli to do just that.
Indeed, despite criticism of Allegri’s negative approach after the Ajax elimination, and reports that Juve have sounded Antonio Conte out about a potential return to Turin, the Tuscan’s contract could even be extended beyond 2020.
Everything hinges on the outcome of an imminent meeting between Allegri and Agnelli over the club’s summer recruitment plan.
Should Allegri stay, Dybala is almost certain to leave.
Sporting director Fabio Paratici dreams of signing Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah but Roma sensation Nicolo Zaniolo is the more realistic target, meaning even less space for Dybala.
Consequently, Juve are seriously considering a swap deal with Inter that would see the Nerazzurri’s disgraced former captain Mauro Icardi arrive in Turin and Dybala leave for Milan. The only issue there, though, is that Dybala does not want to go to San Siro.
A move abroad, thus, looks the most likely option as there is no point in him continuing at Allegri’s Juve.
Just as Argentina have failed to find room for both Dybala and Lionel Messi in the same team, so the Bianconeri have failed to find room for both Dybala and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same team.
Dybala and Ronaldo do not play in the same position, of course; the issue is not that fundamental – but no less difficult to resolve.
The primary problem is that Ronaldo is at his best with Mario Mandzukic alongside him in attack. The Croatian is essentially his new Karim Benzema.
Consequently, Dybala has been asked to play deeper, in between the lines, almost like an auxiliary midfielder at times. It is not a role to which he is suited and his output has dropped dramatically.
Last season, he hit a career-high 26 goals in all competitions; this season, he has just 10 – and four of those came in one game against Basel.
Earlier this season, Dybala stormed off down the tunnel before the full-time whistle blew in a game against Frosinone because he realised he would not even be coming on as a substitute.
But La Joya no longer even looks happy when he’s on the field. And the fans have noticed too.
“Once upon a time he was the new [Omar] Sivori,” Fabio Licari wrote in La Gazzetta last week, “But now not even the crowd are still with him. He has to set things straight with himself.”
A transfer would help in that regard. Andrea Pirlo disagrees, though.
When asked last week if he would leave if he were in Dybala’s position, he responded, “But where can he go that’s better than Juve right now?
“In what other top team would he play? If he goes to another team, he has to deserve his place.
“I’d keep him because he’s an important player. It’s not that he’s gone from one season to the next from an important player to a bad player.
“He’s suffering a little at the moment because of the change of formation and the arrival of Ronaldo. But he’s still young. I think the Juve environment is perfect for him.
“Mentally, physically, he has to understand that in Europe there’s another rythm; it’s not the Italian league.
“If he wants to reach certain levels, he has to improve in everything.”
However, he will only improve if he is playing – and in his preferred position. Playing occasionally, and in a deeper role, is doing Dybala no favours at all.
He is being asked to curb his attacking instincts. In that sense, he personifies Allegri’s general approach to this talented but inhibited squad.
Ask any Juve fans in Italy about their team and the majority of them will bring up the feeling that they have spent the whole season playing with the handbrake on; one that Allegri has applied.
That conservatism ultimately killed their Champions League hopes; and it is killing Dybala’s Juve career too.
Source : goal.com