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Paulo Dybala: ‘You have to put the mask on like gladiators do and fight’

The Juventus No 10 discusses his Polish heritage, nearly giving up on football and interest from Tottenham and Manchester United

Behind the mask is a boy. Just before Christmas 2016, Paulo Dybala missed Juventus’s last penalty in the Italian Super Cup final against Milan. It was still on his mind days later when, watching Gladiator, he had an idea. From that moment, he has celebrated every goal by putting his hand across his face, thumb and index finger extended to imitate a mask. It has been seen often – there have been 64 goals since, starting with a penalty in the next match – instantly identified as his. It is also, he says, “not just a celebration but a message”.

Juventus’s No 10 speaks softly; he is thoughtful and the mask is worn lightly but listening it becomes apparent it goes beyond celebration to become more meaningful, if subconsciously. He says it was inspired by the penalty and the film, that he “didn’t really think about” it as protection or some emotional shield. But in the way he explains it – in everything he says the morning after its latest outing – it is revealed as deeper.

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