Juventus star Paulo Dybala has warned football’s authorities that the sport is at a tipping point, with players ready “to take action” in support of teammates who are racially abused.
In April of last year, then Juventus striker Moise Kean was subjected to monkey chants from a section of Cagliari fans during a Serie A match. In the face of racist vitriol, the youngster scored and defiantly held his arms aloft in front of the home supporters. Cagliari wasn’t punished for the incident.
Argentine international Dybala, who is currently in training as Juventus prepares to restart the Italian football season in Friday’s Coppa Italia match against AC Milan, recalls the impact it had on Kean and believes the country’s football authorities must deliver tougher sanctions in a league that has been plagued by incidents of racist abuse.
“It really wasn’t easy for him and I’ve experienced various situations of racism with other Juventus teammates in other stadiums,” Dybala told CNN in an exclusive interview. “Many Italian stadiums have certain racism against some players – it has also happened to Mario Balotelli, it has also happened to (Miralem) Pjanic in a match against Brescia and I think that Italian punishments should be tougher.
“If not, then it will be us players who will have to take measures into our own hands so that this does not continue to happen, because we are talking about one of the biggest championships in the world, where millions of people are watching and if they see that there is racism and no action is taken, people get emboldened and continue doing it.
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“People who have to take action need to take it, or surely in a short time it will be players who will directly take action. As has happened many times in the past, many players are deciding to leave the pitch or not play and it seems to me a perfect decision because it is something that should not happen in a country.
“If society, in this case the Italian Federation, does not decide to do anything, the players should be the ones to act. Or, as the referees have done many times in the past, stop the match so that these people don’t continue committing that crime.”
The Italian Football Federation (FIGC) was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNN.
On May 25, George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in Minneapolis after being arrested by a white police officer who forcibly pinned him to the ground for several minutes by kneeling on his neck. His death has sparked widespread protests across the world.
Since Floyd’s death, several Bundesliga players and teams have joined those protests on the pitch, led by the quartet of Jadon Sancho, Achraf Hakimi, Weston McKennie and Marcus Thuram.
Dybala believes that his black teammates should never think that they have to fight the racists alone.
“Sometimes it is difficult to put yourself in the shoes of someone who suffers racism when you don’t really ever suffer it, because you don’t feel it,” Dybala says. “But you know what is going on because of having a teammate who suffers racism not only because of their skin color, but because of the country they’re from that people discriminate against or that see as something bad.
“It is also not only because of the skin color, but people are discriminated against because of everything. I’ve seen Asian players who were with me in the youth team and these things are sad.
“Luckily, my family educated me differently and I can respect people for what they are, for their way of thinking and not because of how they are dressed, what country they are from or the color of their skin.
“I think everyone should grow up like that, but obviously it’s not the case. Here, it is not the case that only people of color that should be fighting racism. Here we all have to be united as a society, as a world to do it.”
Following the racist abuse suffered by Kean against Cagliari, then Juventus manager Massimiliano Allegri and defender Leonardo Bonucci were widely condemned for their comments on the incident.
Bonucci said Kean had to take “50-50 of the blame,” while Allegri criticized the youngster for his celebration after scoring.
The defender subsequently backtracked on his comments, saying he was “misunderstood” and “too hasty” and while Dybala acknowledges those comments were wrong, he believes they are not truly representative of the pair.
“At that time, they were not the right words for what was happening,” Dybala says. “You have to be very cautious when talking about certain things and delivering the right message that you want to say, because often the words are not taken as one really wants to say.
“Of course both the player and coach can learn from certain things, because I know them so well and I know that they don’t have racist thoughts. Perhaps at the time they did not use the words they wanted to say. So, I repeat, I think that [fighting racism] is something that we have to do, so that does not happen on a football field.”
Nicknamed ‘La Joya’ – ‘The Jewel’ – ever since his professional debut for Argentine side Instituto, Dybala has become one of Europe’s most sought after players.
Dybala humbly insists that he never expected to reach the heights of a club like Juventus, or have the opportunity to represent Argentina on the international stage.
The 26-year-old was born in Laguna Larga, a small town of just 6,000 people “where dreams often seem unreachable,” he says.
Now, alongside Cristiano Ronaldo, Dybala is one of Juventus’ most treasured possessions. Given how important he is to Maurizio Sarri’s team, it seems absurd to think that this time last year he almost left the club.
“It was more or less last year at this point when Juventus didn’t want to count on me, didn’t want me to continue playing here,” Dybala recalls. “That’s when I was contacted and there were some clubs that were interested in me. Among those were Manchester United and Tottenham. I think for a long time there were conversations, then Paris Saint-Germain also appeared.
“I did not speak directly to any of them, but there were conversations with the clubs. However, my intention at the time was to stay. I hadn’t had a good year or a positive last six months, so I didn’t want to leave with that image because I think I had given the club a lot of nice moments and it wasn’t fair that I went like this.
“So I also communicated that my intention was to stay, work to grow and give my best here. Obviously it was not easy because Juventus’ intentions were different, but after the market closed, there was no more time and with the arrival of Sarri I grew a lot. The team started playing football much better and that made me stay and I’ve had a great year until today.”
Given some of Europe’s biggest clubs were scrambling for his signature, it comes as some surprise that Juventus are yet to tie down their star man beyond the summer of 2022.
Dybala is clear-headed and only sees his future in Turin, but admits it’s a decision that will need to be mutually agreed upon by both parties.
“For now there is nothing, really,” Dybala admits. “I have a year-and-a-half left on my contract, which is not much, and I understand that with all this that has happened [coronavirus] it isn’t easy for the club, but other players have also renewed – so we are here waiting.
“Obviously I am a player of this club and I am happy to be here. People love me very much and I love the people very much. I have great appreciation for the club and the people who are here, I have a good relationship with my president and surely at some point they will come to chat – or maybe not, I don’t know,” he laughs.
“At some point maybe there may be some possible renewal, but it depends on Juventus.”
Dybala is one of very few players to have had the joy of playing alongside both Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, by some distance the two greatest players on their generation.
While away on international duty with Argentina, the pair rarely speak about football but Dybala admits playing alongside his international teammate at club level is an attractive proposition.
“The truth is that Barcelona is huge team worldwide and with Messi there even bigger,” he says. “It would be very nice, but Juventus is also an incredible club, very big, full of history, where there are currently great players.
“There’s enough quality here to make two teams to and the chance to play with [Gianluigi] Buffon and Cristiano Ronaldo, who make the club even bigger.”