Paulo Dybala sits, ponders, and smiles.
“La Joya [the jewel],” replies the Argentine, when asked about the origins of his nickname.
“I don’t know who exactly but it was someone back when I played for Instituto who gave it me”.
That was back in 2011, when Dybala was a teenager and one of his country’s brightest prospects, emerging in Cordoba, on the Suquia river some 440 miles from Buenos Aires.
Dybala came to the fore not just outside of the traditional Buenos Aires hotbed, creeping up on the blind side of powerhouses of Boca Juniors and River Plate, but outside of his country’s top division altogether.
At Instituto, who handed Argentine legend Mario Kempes his break as a similarly precocious teen, Dybala shone, scoring 17 goals before being whisked away to Italy, signed by Sicilian side Palermo.
Now, 25 today, Dybala is one of the most recognisable stars in Serie A, a potential Ballon d’Or winner entrusted with Juventus’ No.10 shirt, following in the footsteps of Michel Platini, Roberto Baggio and Alessandro Del Piero.
“A dream”, insists Dybala, speaking in Milan. “It’s a big responsibility to wear the No.10 at Juventus, and it was the club’s decision, but I’m very happy with it and very proud.
“But the most important thing isn’t the number on the shirt, it’s what’s in here,” he adds, pointing to his heart.
Dybala has emerged as the Bianconeri’s brightest star in recent seasons, fittingly, given his nickname, becoming their crown jewel.
It looks set to be a similar case with Adidas, with Dybala now the face of the company’s Copa brand, with a reimagination of perhaps their most iconic boot – the 1982 Copa Mundial – now on the market.
It is at that unveiling, in a warehouse given the moniker ‘Area 19’, in the heart of Italy’s fashion capital, where Mirror Footballspeaks to Dybala.
“I just remembered…when I debuted with Instituto I was wearing some Adidas F50s that I had bought with my own savings.
“Now this, today, being the face of Copa is an incredible feeling”.
The company have taken their time in pushing Dybala, having signed him prior to the World Cup; Dybala had previously been with Nike, but that deal came to an end in 2017.
In a world where social media is increasingly important to marketing strategy and product placement, Dybala has 22 million Instagram followers but remains untapped potential, a bona-fide global star in the making who has, so far, largely eschewed everything that makes a global star.
Now, however, he is being lined up as one of Adidas’ new kings – Lionel Messi, his compatriot with whom he is often compared, is now 31 and Adidas are aware of the need to build new stars, leading the company to hand Dybala the keys to one of their four boot franchises; his close friend, Manchester United midfielder Paul Pogba, has been handed another (Predator).
Dybala and the £89million World Cup winner only crossed paths in Turin for one season, but a close friendship blossomed.
They recently did battle in the Champions League – each notching a match winning goal on the other’s home ground – and Dybala is hopeful that they will be teammates again some day.
“The first match was amazing for me, the second amazing for him.
“We have remained in touch since he left. “We’re still very close and who knows, maybe in the future we can play together again.”
Could that be at Manchester United? Quickly, almost instinctively, Dybala rebuffs.
“I’m not thinking about the transfer market. Right now I’m really happy at Juventus and the focus is simply winning all the titles here.”
Certainly, since his move to Turin for £32m in 2015, winning titles has been a regular affair for Dybala, landing seven trophies in all.
In each of his three full seasons at the Allianz Stadium, Dybala had won the domestic double; Juventus have achieved that in each of the four seasons under Max Allegri, while they have won the last seven Scudetto.
So far this season they’ve dropped just two points and look well on course for an eighth successive league title – unprecedented dominance in Serie A.
However, familiarity breeds contempt and in these times of instant gratification being achieved with every like and retweet, of achievements always being compared regardless of their level of comparability, of super-clubs being expected to win, the pressure continues to grow on Juve to end a 22-year wait for the European Cup.
Such has been the Bianconeri’s dominance of domestic affairs that merely winning the league is, to some, no longer viewed as quite being enough; it’s a feeling to which Barcelona can no doubt relate after seeing their Spanish double overshadowed last season by Real Madrid’s Euro threepeat.
To some, the signing of Cristiano Ronaldo – the man who ended Juve’s European dream in each of the last two years and has been lured for a total package in excess of £300m – plus the return of Leonardo Bonucci was a sign that Juve are in ‘win-now’ mode and that the Champions League is taking precedence.
According to Dybala, only half of that is true.
“At Juventus, it’s always the same objective – to win titles.
“It’s true that this year, from the outside, the Champions League looks more like an obsession. But the focus is, as always, on the domestic title as well.
“We will have a great chance to win the Champions League this year. Ronaldo provides us with another option and is a very good player and this year we have been playing really well.
“Last year we played against Madrid…and we almost won! In four years we have played i two finals.
“I believe in previous years we have proven that we are capable to win, but we have had a bit of bad luck, especially what happened last year against Madrid.
“We haven’t has the luck of winning the competition, but hopefully we do this season.”
In tournament football you always need a certain degree of luck, whether in terms of who you draw or perhaps a major decision going your way.
But more important is the ability to take your chance whenever it crosses your path, and in terms of being decisive on the biggest occasions, no-one can match the Champions League’s top scorer, Ronaldo.
Now 33, he can boast five European Cup titles and, amid a personal feud with Florentino Perez, is desperate to get to six first; he joined Juve believing that they afford him the best chance of spiting the Real Madrid president.
For that to happen, much rests on the Ronaldo-Dybala partnership, with the laid-back Argentine and teammates full of experience having to adapt to the oft-gesticulating Portuguese.
Dybala is more than happy to do just that, and while he has managed just two goals in 11 league games this term – he had 11 at this stage 12 months ago – he is pleased with the results so far.
“Ever since Ronaldo arrived, we have been, and we are, really happy together,” assures a smiling Dybala.
“I think we have been doing well. We have scored really important goals for Juventus together.
“Cristiano arrived only recently, but we all know the importance that he has on everyone and we knew his style from before.
“We know how he plays and how he works. Of course, you have to make small changes, but we are happy and we are going to score a lot of goals together.”
Between them, the pair carry the weight of the Old Lady and the only aim is to win, no matter the competition.
- Paulo Dybala was speaking to Mirror Football courtesy of adidas football at the official Copa 19 launch in Milan