Creative Soccer Culture

Why Signing Paulo Dybala Was Vital For adidas

There's a power shift happening right now in the brand game. The leading men are making way for a new wave of talent and for adidas they're backing Paulo Dybala. Signed ahead of the World Cup but a spectator in Russia, it's this season where he's proving every bit of his worth for the Three Stripes.

The scene was set as it so often has been in the past, for Cristiano Ronaldo to take centre stage this week as Manchester United entertained Juventus in a Champions League group stage clash of the titans.

All of the pre-match build-up centred around his return to the Theatre of Dreams, this time in the black and white stripes of The Old Lady. However, it was Paulo Dybala, the young pretender who went on to steal the show at Old Trafford, grabbing the winner and Man of the Match accolade in a 0-1 victory for Juve. But did this signify more than just a player stealing airtime in the CR7 show?


Dybala’s goal – a tidy finish after the ball popped up to him just outside the six-yard box – and his performance as a whole against United was a significant moment in his career and a marker for a new generation of throne chasing youngsters. Ronaldo, along with perennial nemesis Lionel Messi, has enjoyed a period of utter dominance over the last decade but Dybala is competing in a next wave of undisputed talent. The fact that Cristiano indirectly assisted Dybala’s strike is just a happy coincidence in this instance as the torch doesn’t fully pass from CR7, but it does begin to warm up.

The undeniable truth regarding Ronaldo and Messi is that as both players enter the twilight of their careers their tenure at the top of the table is coming to an end. As a result, brands are inevitably having to look to the future, turning their attentions to the unenviable task of identifying successors – much like a football club does with new talent. It’s not just the on-pitch performances that need to be accounted for though but also the marketable package that they present.

Nike, it seems, already have a couple of ready-made replacements to take on the mantle in Neymar and Mbappe – both relevant in lifestyle circles with confident character and social flair. Throw in Hazard, De Bruyne, Kane, and Coutinho and Nike have already built a strong undercard. And it doesn’t stop there, with Nike’s embarrassment of riches also including Dembele, Asensio, Lacazette, Eriksen, Sterling, Sane, Martial and Rashford. It’s quite the roster, and one that Nike will be confident in for the foreseeable future.


It’s when looking for a replacement for Messi that adidas could’ve been perceived to be struggling. Pogba undoubtedly has the persona and social following for the task, especially with a World Cup and a goal in the final to his name; two things that neither Ronaldo nor Messi could claim. Whatever it is about Pogba though, whether it’s the Mourinho affect or something else, it just isn’t quite happening for him on the pitch with the regularity needed to be considered the best.

If you look at the rest of the adidas line-up with on-pitch performances in mind, the stand-out player from last season was Mo Salah. But Salah is clearly a quiet and reserved character away from the pitch, not drawn to the attention that others may embrace and enjoy, and that’s absolutely fair enough. Messi hardly covets the attention that his performances garner – he is just so good that he can’t be ignored.

That’s where a large Paulo Dybala shaped hole existed in the adidas superstar line-up; either not quite enough star-quality on the pitch, or not enough of a character off it. Dybala is the balance; a ready made icon complete with signature logo and trademark celebration. He’s a marketing dream so it’s no surprise that, following his failure to renew his contract with Nike in February 2017, there was a scramble for his signature.


Showing a canniness beyond his years Dybala flirted with his potential suitors, appearing in blacked out editions of the Nike Superfly, PUMA ONE 17.1, and the X 17+ in the following 18 months. But on 12 June 2018 it was adidas who were able to announce a major coup when it was confirmed that the Argentine was signing for the Three Stripes.


Aptly nicknamed La Joya (the Jewel), and with an Instagram following of 22.8m and counting (that’s more than Nike’s golden boy Mbappe), Dybala was an essential acquisition for adidas. He’s one of the hottest properties in club football with a relevance and personality that appeals to a youthful audience. He also has at least five years on the likes of Messi, Higuain, Aguero and Di Maria, and the tools to become the future of Argentine football. Criminally under-used at the World Cup in Russia, the national team is yet another place for which Dybala seems tailor-made to replace Messi.

Dybala and his social standing represents something exciting for adidas, they just need to leverage it correctly. They already got off to a good start by seeding Dybala the latest Yeezys to flaunt on his social channels back in August, along with adidas’ list of influential figures and musicians; you’d never see adidas using Messi in that way, it just wouldn’t fit naturally.

But Dybala is a completely different beast, perhaps more akin to a Nike athlete, and that’s why for adidas it was vital that they got their man. This is a guy who hangs around with Rihanna, has covered Vanity Fair, featured in GQ and appeared on the runway at the Dolce and Gabbana show at Milan fashion week. That’s the sort of stuff that turns brands on right now. He’s in the sort of places that any sports brand want their logo to be in, carrying them into alternative circles where sports brand didn’t fit a few years ago, but are now widely accepted… if styled well by the right person. Dybala can do that.


Dybala signing on the three striped line was vital for adidas. Seeing him go anywhere else just wasn't an option.

In what could be the next step in the adidas marketing masterclass, Dybala has recently been training in a mystery blacked-out boot. As an exciting, unconventional player, he doesn’t necessarily fit the X, Nemeziz or Predator mould and so it would make absolute sense for adidas to use Dybala to propel a new boot to the forefront of their plans. Placing his character to any boot is pretty much a sure-fire way to guarantee its success and propel Dybala in the same way Nike have done with Neymar.


To say that Dybala – or anyone for that matter – will be as good as Ronaldo or Messi is not only unrealistic, but also unfair. Besides, he doesn’t need to be. Was Beckham ever better than Zidane? No, but he was more marketable and that is what’s important in the brand game. With his near meteoric rise set to continue both on the pitch and off it for the foreseeable future, Dybala is primed to take his place at the top of the table, and adidas will be licking their lips at the prospect.


The Creative Soccer Culture Brief

Sign up to our newsletter and we'll keep you in the loop with everything good going on in the world of Creative Soccer Culture.