MILAN: There’s Paulo Dybala, and there’s Lionel Messi.
Both play for Argentina and both are crucial for their club teams, but that’s where Dybala wants the comparisons to stop.
“People should know that I am Dybala and I want to continue to be so,” the Juventus forward told Italian daily La Repubblica. “I understand the comparisons and expectations on me from the Argentines, but I don’t want to be the new Messi or the Messi of the future.
“There is only one Messi, like (Diego) Maradona. No one has ever told me that I am his heir.”
Dybala and Messi have only played together once — in Argentina’s 1-0 win over Uruguay in September when the former was sent off — and Dybala said they “haven’t had a great relationship.”
They will face each other for the first time on Tuesday when Juventus hosts Barcelona in the first leg of the Champions League quarterfinals.
“I really admire him. I respect him,” Dybala said. “He has won many Champions Leagues. I haven’t won any and I’m dreaming about the first.”
Dybala has had a fantastic two seasons at Juventus since joining from Palermo for 32 million euros (then $36 million) in June 2015.
The 23-year-old forward is currently in the process of thrashing out a new contract, with Juventus expected to extend his deal by one year to 2021 and increase his salary to about the same level as Gonzalo Higuain — which would end speculation over potential moves to Barcelona and other top clubs.
Dybala has dropped to a deeper role this season but has nevertheless weighed in with 14 goals and seven assists and is earning plaudits for his understanding with Higuain in their first season together.
Higuain hadn’t scored for five matches before netting two against former club Napoli last week as Juventus progressed to the Italian Cup final. And the forward netted another two goals to lead the Bianconeri past Chievo Verona 2-0 in Serie A on Saturday.
Dybala provided a fantastic assist for the opening goal, skipping down the right flank before pulling back for his teammate, and also started off the move which led to the second.
“With Gonzalo it’s like we’ve been playing together for five years,” Dybala said. “At every training session we try to get to know each other better. On top of that we go out to dinner together and we take this understanding out onto the field, too. But it’s easy to do assists for him, with the movements he makes.”
Barcelona, which beat Juventus in the 2015 Champions League final, will be favored to progress — especially after its historic 6-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the last round.
“We just need to go out there and play our game without giving it too much thought,” Juventus coach Massimiliano Allegri said. “We must be ready for it. It’s a Champions League quarterfinal after all.”