Liverpool can seize on contract delay to seal free transfer for £36m Juventus ace
There was a time when Paulo Dybala was considered one of the foremost talents in world football. Perhaps never quite crowned an heir to compatriot Lionel Messi, with whom he has had a strained relationship at times, he was nonetheless cited as a contender to one day stake a claim as among the best around. Now, in a little over two months’ time, Liverpool can approach the Juventus man over a free transfer.
Exactly how long this window remains open remains to be seen, with reports claiming a new contract is close. However, this has been the line for more than three weeks now, with no announcement in sight. The longer the Italian giants drag their heels, the more Europe’s elite clubs will begin to circle — Liverpool should certainly look to position themselves among the waiting sharks.
Having moved to Juventus in a £36m transfer from Palermo in 2015, Dybala announced himself with 19 Serie A goals and seven assists in an impressive debut season. He had a slightly quieter next campaign, but four goals in the Champions League if anything elevated his status in Europe even further. What followed was a barnstorming 2017/18 season, where the Argentine plundered 22 league goals — mostly playing in a ‘shadow striker’ role.
Dybala has struggled to post the same numbers since, enduring a very quiet 2018/19 (five league goals, two assists) and 2020/21 (four goals, three assists) either side of an impressive 11-goal, 11-assist showing in 2019/20. However, this year-on, year-off model appears to be continuing, and the 27-year-old has started the current campaign in impressive fashion. He has already scored twice and assisted a further two goals from just five games.
It will come as a surprise to many that Dybala is still only 27. Having emerged on the scene as a young player, he has been in the public consciousness for some time — he turns 28 in November, so is no longer ‘young’ for a footballer, but should still have a good three years or more left at the top. This would not fit neatly into Liverpool’s rebuilding strategy, but on a free transfer could provide a handy bridge between the ageing stars and the emerging generation of youngsters.
Furthermore, with Roberto Firmino the oldest of the classic Liverpool front three, the false nine position is the one most in need of a refresh. Diogo Jota has played there, but his future could plausibly be on the wing as a long-term heir to Mohamed Salah or Sadio Mané; in any event, he is certainly not the same kind of striker as Firmino. In fact, very few players in world football share a profile with the Brazilian, but the man from the other side of the Iguaçu Falls has some notable similarities.
Dybala and Firmino each feature on the other’s ‘top 10 most similar players’ lists on FBRef. Diving into the numbers, it is not hard to see why. Both are phenomenal progressors of the ball, offering as much in build-up as they do in goals. The Juventus man ranks in the 99th percentile of forwards around Europe for progressive passes per 90, and the 93rd percentile for progressive carries. Liverpool’s current number nine sits in the 96th percentile for progressive passes, and the 87th percentile for carries.
Both are also adept dribblers, and regular and accurate passers. Firmino is a more voracious presser, but Dybala remains above average in this department. The prospect of him playing under Jürgen Klopp is an exciting one — all the more so if he could be brought in for free.
Juventus look intent on shutting down this possibility before it fully emerges, but they are certainly leaving it late. For now, all Liverpool can do is watch and wait, but if the contract situation is not resolved by January then a free transfer approach makes a whole lot of sense.