It is only a few days since Juventus beat Sampdoria to seal their ninth consecutive Scudetto, and Paulo Dybala already has his mind on other challenges. Football still has plenty of those in store for him, of course, particularly with his team taking a one-goal deficit into next Friday’s Champions League game at home to Lyon, but recently he has been considering other matters entirely.
The most significant outcome is his decision to join Common Goal, pledging at least 1% of his salary to a collective fund which uses football as a tool to educate and empower children and young people and joining Juan Mata, Jürgen Klopp, Megan Rapinoe and his clubmate Giorgio Chiellini on its list of donors, now 159 strong. It is a movement that is slowly increasing in size and momentum, a process that Dybala’s intervention – as the first major South American footballer to sign up – could accelerate. But the 26-year-old’s decision is also a step on a personal journey.
“I’ve given to charity before,” he says, “but I’ve always done it anonymously, because the purpose is not to get publicity but to help those in need. But I think to be part of this initiative, to be one of 159 people working together, is important in a different way. We’ve come together as a group and we want to work as a team in solidarity with people less fortunate than ourselves.”
Footballers who sign up to Common Goal can input into where they want their money to be used, and Dybala’s will go towards projects not only in his native Argentina but also in Israel, Palestine, Pakistan, India and Rwanda. “It is something that I decided with my family and the people I work with, and my mother is going to be very involved in the movement,” he says. “For her this is a very beautiful and very important project. We have always tried to help people – my mother always likes to tell me it’s something I have to do, and of course I have to respect her opinion.
“Sometimes I look at society and I see things that I would like to change. It sounds ridiculous, but I would love to be able to change the world in just a small way. The truth is that football is a powerful weapon. For whatever reason, the things we say are heard around the world, and lots of people pay more attention to footballers than they do to presidents and prime ministers and important politicians. I think we have to use the power we are given to send positive messages, and to be strong role models. I believe that if everyone in football came together we could give so much and achieve so much, to help people in need and to fulfil the ambitions of so many children.”
Dybala says that “football is my passion and it has been my life since I was three years old”, but he is aware that had he failed to make it as a player he would have faced an uncertain future as someone with no qualifications and few outside interests, and the focus of his charitable work is informed by his own experience.
“I know so many people, friends of mine, who came so close but football is like life – a lot of the time it is not just about what you do, but about who sees it, and what they think about it. Along the way you need a lot of luck. A lot of my friends never made it, and at a certain moment found themselves a bit lost, not knowing what to do and which way to go.
“I had the good fortune to get where I have, but if it hadn’t happened for me I’ve no idea what I would have done. That’s what I keep thinking about. Many young people who dream of going into football never learn anything else, and they never know about all the alternative paths that might have been there for them. I think education is such a powerful tool for giving people a helping hand. Once a person has an education there is so much they can achieve that might otherwise have been beyond them. Football can help bring people into education, give them a future and the potential to live a full life.”
Dybala talks of his life after football, in which he hopes “to have more time to spend with my family, but also more time to help other people”. He has much to achieve before that, with his sporting CV featuring no international or European trophies but plenty of Italian domestic honours including five Scudetti. In England no team have won more than three league titles in a row, and before this Juve side the Italian record stood at five.
“It can be hard to maintain concentration and ambition, but every victory is special,” he says. “I think that’s the most important thing. I like to win, my teammates like to win, and the club likes to win, and it’s that desire that makes us winners – but of course it helps that we have the strongest players in the world in every position. We’re proud of ourselves, to win nine titles in a row is incredible, and we’re already thinking about a 10th.
“First though we need to turn our attention to the Champions League. It’s been such a long season already. The first game against Lyon was five months ago and so many things have happened in between, but we know what we can still achieve. It’ll be strange to play in the Champions League without fans, and to play just one tie in each round, but first we have to win in Turin. For now, that’s all that matters.”