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 By Ben Gladwell

Argentina's Paulo Dybala: Playing for Italy would have been deceit

In an interview with ESPN FC, Lionel Messi hits back at claims he makes the decisions for Argentina.

Argentina international Paulo Dybala says he does not regret turning down the opportunity to play for Italy when he was 19.

Due to his family heritage, Dybala, 24, was sounded out about playing for Italy when he made the breakthrough at Palermo after moving from Instituto AC Cordoba in his native Argentina.

He turned down the opportunity, though, and was handed his Argentina debut in October 2015 before establishing himself alongside Lionel Messi in attack.

"I was asked to play for Italy and I was very appreciative," he told Italy's Vanity Fair magazine. "I was 19 and I said 'no, thank you.' It was very hard, but I am Argentinian and it would have been deceit."

Paulo Dybala now plays alongside Lionel Messi for Argentina.

At the time, his talent was only emerging at Palermo, with whom he scored three goals in his debut Serie A season.

Reflecting on those early days, Dybala said he can understand how so many talented players fail to make it.

"When we have a ball at our feet, we footballers are delighted, but what happens behind the scenes is not always all that pretty," he said. "When you get to the level that I'm at, often you are a very lonely man.

"God gives us this talent, but it's a talent that you need to work on. I've seen so many phenomenal players at youth level -- lads who you would say: 'If only they had their head screwed on, they could have been the next [Diego] Maradona or Messi.'"

He said he had been determined to show he could make it to inspire the next generation.

"We'd sit around the fire in the summer and I told my friends that [winning the Ballon d'Or] is what I wanted," he said. "If I win it, it would send out a huge message to many kids; for all of those born like me in small villages far from the great metropolis' who can hope to be able to tell a similar story to mine one day."

Ben Gladwell reports on Serie A, the Italian national team and the Bundesliga for ESPN FC, UEFA and the Press Association. @UEFAcomBenG.

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