Even more curious is the apparent apathy from outside Italy. Dybala, a player who has already captured the imagination of Manchester United, Tottenham, Barcelona and Real Madrid, has only received one serious offer from the foreigner, Sevilla, that great collector of mercurial Argentine forwards. The catch is that it comes with a significant pay cut. One of Italy’s best players is available for free, and much of Europe has barely blinked an eye.
This is partly because of Dybala himself. His salary expectations exclude a large majority of clubs. His injury record might give others pause. His form, over the past two years, has been a bit inconsistent, although he would no doubt point out that Juventus have hardly played in a way that could extract their best performances.
In fact, it is perhaps the most relevant factor. At a time when most teams play with some version of an attacking trident – two wide players cutting, a central striker employed to create space – Dybala has no natural home.
He is, by inclination and disposition, a No.10, a position that has all but ceased to exist in modern football. Even Juventus, where the role – as much as the number – carries a certain “weight”, as one of the club’s leaders put it this year, is doing away with it. Elite football now has no place for what Italian football has long called the fantasista. Dybala may turn out to be the last of the line.
But the limbo Dybala finds himself in is also part of a larger trend. Italian football is an increasingly isolated ecosystem, a world unto itself. It’s not just that Italian players, as a rule, don’t leave Italy: only four members have called up Roberto Mancini’s squad for this month’s meeting with Argentina, the so-called Finalissima, played outside of Serie A, the same number he called his Euro 2020-winning team. It’s that the country’s coaches are traveling less and less often too. Carlo Ancelotti may have won another Champions League less than a month ago, and Antonio Conte may have helped Tottenham regain their place in Europe’s top flight, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule.