Paulo Dybala Looking Forward to Building off MVP Season

The 2019-20 season might be the longest and most turbulent in the history of soccer, but for Paulo Dybala, he’ll never forget the year of ups and downs.

Juventus came into the campaign on the heels of eight-straight Serie A titles, including five consecutive and a pair of UEFA Champions League Final appearances (2014-15 and 2016-17) under Massimiliano Allegri. Now with Maurizio Sarri at the helm, Juve won its ninth straight Scudetto though it wasn’t easy.

Dybala, their star striker, battled COVID-19 for nearly two months, testing positive four different times. Despite the off-field obstacle and a late-season injury picked up against Sampdoria on July 26, Dybala was named Serie A MVP with 11 goals and six assists.

“It was a very, very long year for everybody, not just in soccer,” Dybala said through a translator. “It was a particularly tough year starting from the last transfer market (rumors) then we had a new manager take over. Then COVID arrived and I tested positive. When the season restarted, it was tough for everybody, especially for me, because I had to come back from COVID.”

While Dybala and Juventus flourished in Serie A—the Bianconeri won the crown with two matches remaining, ultimately finishing one point ahead of second-place Inter—Juventus suffered a surprise elimination to Lyon in the Champions League Round of 16. Dybala tried to play through his injury, recording just 13 minutes in the second leg as Juve was eliminated based on the competition’s away goals rule, resulting in Sarri’s departure.

From there, Juve summoned former midfield maestro Andrea Pirlo to take the reins on August 8 despite having no coaching experience. Pirlo, who played for the Italian giants from 2011-15, was named their Under-23 coach on June 30 before being fast tracked to the first team nine days later.

“As you can imagine everybody knows Pirlo as a player—a great player, one of the best players I’ve seen on the pitch,” Dybala said. “Unfortunately when I arrived at Juventus (in 2015) he wasn’t there so we couldn’t play together, and I always imagined in my career being able to play with him. But now Pirlo and I are on the same pitch, but him as a trainer and me as a player.

“Pirlo and his staff are very motivated people who want to win. In our team, there are a lot of players who’ve known Pirlo from the past, and that’s very important, but at the same time we have to give him the time so we understand exactly what kind of coach he is. We don’t want to make any comparisons with other coaches because it’s not important. The idea is we have to work together to understand his way of playing and we want to win together.”

Pirlo is equally high on his 26-year-old Argentinian attacker, telling reporters in late August: “Paulo Dybala is an important player and he will be part of the project.”

The new manager is already shaking things up ahead of the club’s season opener against Sampdoria on September 20. Juve swapped Miralem Pjanic for Arthur with FC Barcelona, Borussia Dortmund made Emre Can’s loan deal a permanent one, and Juve let Blaise Matuidi and Gonzalo Higuain make moves to Inter Miami FC of Major League Soccer.

Juventus also brought in 22-year-old American midfielder Weston McKennie on a year-long loan from FC Schalke, making McKennie the first U.S. men’s player to play for Juve and the fifth to play in Serie A.

“We are going to help him a lot as a team and myself as an individual to be ready as soon as possible for this new football,” Dybala said. “It’s very important to be the first American to play at Juventus. Italian football is very physical, very positional and he’s a player who knows how to be on the field, recovers a lot of balls, and will get used to the league very quickly.

“It’s very important for the United States because he opens a big door for more players to come. The visibility is going to be higher and higher. He’s very important for American football.”

While Dybala has his sights set on replicating his personal success from 2019-20 in the hopes of guiding Juventus to a 10th consecutive Scudetto (and greater success in the Champions League), the Argentinian is staying busy off the field, partnering with eyewear technology platform King Children on the limited edition PD10 Collection.

Each pair of sunglasses is crafted utilizing their zero-waste production technology, meaning there is no supply chain waste produced or excess inventory.

“This partnership for me was unbelievable and very important,” Dybala said. “The messages are very important for the environment and we can share that with the younger generation. … They are very beautiful and fashionable because all my teammates are asking what kind of glasses they are. For me it was a very good experience and I’m very proud to be part of this project.”

And Pirlo is excited to have Dybala be an integral part of his project at Juventus as the World Cup winner attempts to revitalize La Vecchia Signora (“The Old Lady”).

“I want to bring back the enthusiasm with proactive football and domination of the play,” Pirlo said. “I said two things to the lads: ‘You must always have the ball’ and ‘When you lose it, you must get it back quickly.’ … We must always be willing to make sacrifices. When there is a goal we all have to reach it together.”

NOTE: First appeared on Forbes SportsMoney

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