Is Paulo Dybala a better replacement for Neymar than Ousmane Dembele?
Barcelona finally completed the signing of Ousmane Dembele from Borussia Dortmond for a reported club record fee of €105m upfront with an additional €42m to come as add-ons. This could bring the total amount paid for the 20-year old French international to €147m. Thus, Dembele becomes Barcelona's second most expensive player of all time behind Neymar Jr. who, coincidentally, left Barcelona for PSG on a €222m deal, a record for any player in the history of football.
Neymar’s departure seems to have caught the club off-guard, leading to a scramble to get one of the top midfielders in the world game who can fill the huge void left by the departure of the talismanic Brazilian.
But the question on many peoples’ minds remains: Is the 20-year old winger the ideal replacement for Neymar? Or should Barcelona go after Paulo Dybala? Let’s look at the facts about both players that can give us a pointer on what to expect.
Compared side by side, the two players have a lot in common. That includes dribbling skills and pace amongst other things. However, they also have some striking differences. We’ll examine some of them below.
Experience and Output
20-year-old Dembele has played just two seasons of top-flight football. He made his professional debut for Rennes’ first team in Ligue 1 as a second-half replacement for Kamil Grosicki on against Angers SCO September 6, 2015. He then signed his first professional contract with the club in October 2015.
After impressing at Rennes, Dembele went on to sign a five-year contract with German club Borussia Dortmund on May 12, 2016.
He had a stellar season with Die Borussen both in the Bundesliga and in the Champions League. He did well in the DFB-Pokal as well, where he scored the winning goal against their arch-rivals Bayern Munchen in the semi-final to help Dortmund seal the game 3-2.
He went on to score the Dortmund's first goal in the 2017 DFB-Pokal final against Eintracht Frankfurt in a 2-1 win. It was the club's first major title in five years. He was named Man of the Match for his stupendous display in the final.
Dembélé was subsequently added to the Bundesliga Team of the Season and was awarded the Bundesliga Rookie of the Season award at the end of the season.
Dybala began his professional football career with his hometown club, Instituto Atletico Central Cordoba, in the Primera B Nacional (Argentine second division) at the age of 17. He played a total of 40 matches with the club and scored 17 goals. In his time with the club, he achieved outstanding feats. Apart from being the youngest player to score a goal in the league, he was also the first player to:
· Score two hat-tricks in a season
· Score in six consecutive games
· Play 38 consecutive professional league matches in the country.
He then moved to Palermo in Italy in 2012 for €8.64m. He went on to score some important goals for the club. His most outstanding season came in Serie A 2014-15, where he scored ten goals in the first half of the season alone. He ended the season with 13 goals and 10 assists. Top clubs were now showing interest in the youngster.
It’s Juventus who moved ahead of others, capturing him in 2015 on a five-year deal for €32m plus €8m in add-ons. He was off to the mark scoring against Lazio in his very first match in the 2015 Supercoppa Italiana. He went on to score six goals and make two assists in all competitions for the club.
In his first full season at Juventus, Dybala finished the season as the top scorer with 23 goals in all competitions and 19 in Serie A, thereby helping the club to win the league title.
Following his exploits in the 2016-17 UEFA Champions League, when his goals against Barcelona helped Juventus get to the finals, Dybala was named as one of the three finalists for the Forward of the season award. On August 15, 2017, Dybala came in sixth in the list of UEFA Best Player of the Year Award.
He has played two Champions League finals in three years and has won several trophies with the club at 23 years of age. Hence, he can be considered to be more experienced than Dembele.
Style and Position of Play
Neymar can play as a central striker, second striker, attacking midfielder but sticks to the wings more often. He possesses superb dribbling skills which allow him to get past opposing players with ease.
He excels from the left side of the attacking line in a 4-3-3 line-up. He likes to drift infield and shoot with his stronger foot (right) while also creating goal-scoring chances for his teammates.
Dembele, like Neymar, excels as a winger in a 4-3-3 formation. He has got good dribbling skills, has pace, an ability to pass the ball and provides a substantial counter-attacking threat.
According to whoscored, dribbling, through balls, key passes, ability to take direct free kicks and set pieces along with good finishing are some of his major strengths. His weaknesses include aerial duels, holding onto the ball and lack of defensive contribution.
Dybala is known to have superb dribbling skills, creativity and close control in limited spaces. He is quick and possesses excellent technical ability. He also excels as a winger and can quickly cut in to shoot at the goal or create chances for his teammates.
Suffice to say that whatever Dembele gives you, Dybala offers that too and then some.
A hardworking player on and off the ball, Dybala has stamina, contributes his share in defensive duties and can create as well as score goals.
His strengths include dribbling, key passes, long shots, taking set pieces, through balls, holding onto the ball and taking direct free kicks. His one prominent weakness is in aerial duels.
There’s no doubt Barcelona are most likely getting a good deal in signing Ousmane Dembele. But whether this is the best they could get for a club record fee remains to be seen.
Many are however of the opinion that Dybala would have been a much better buy for the club at a similar or even lower price if they had made their move at the right time as was adviced by club midfield legend, Xavi Hernadez.
In April 2017, Xavi was widely reported to have told Spanish publication Marca, “Dybala would fit in perfectly at Barcelona if you look at the other players there. He has a lot of talent and is capable of playing for any big team. He is a natural who plays at a high level and is still young. He is ready to play for Barcelona."