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Getting to know Barca’s latest signing Sergiño Dest

Sudarshan Gopal

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Photo via Imago

“Before I went to Juventus, I made a final promise to the board at Barcelona. I said, “You’re going to miss me.”

Dani Alves’ words haunt Barcelona to this day. The revolutionary Brazilian right-back left for Turin in search of new pastures in 2016, with the Spanish side looking to move towards a younger player. Barcelona’s right-back spot has always been unsteady since. Signings like Aleix Vidal and Nelson Semedo proved to be substandard, and while local boy Sergi Roberto has been the go-to starter for the spot over the past few seasons, he does leave the Blaugranes wanting. Therefore, the search for someone who can potentially lace Alves’s boots and claim the right flank as his own continues. The latest hope to end this desperate search is American-Dutch teenage sensation, Sergiño Dest.

Various teams – clubs as well as countries – were competing for Dest’s representation. First, the US Men’s National Team and the Netherlands National Team – led by current Barcelona manager Ronald Koeman – battled it out for the then 18-year-old, with the young starlet choosing to represent the star-spangled flag of USA. Over the last week, European giants Bayern Munich provided stiff competition for the American’s signature, Barcelona managed to come out on top – Dest has signed a contract running till 2025. 

Born and raised in the Netherlands, the youngster is the latest to come from the de Toekomst wonder-kid vending machine. The 19-year-old has had a meteoric rise towards the top over the past year. He was a winger for Ajax’s U-19 team in 2018, and upon impressing there, he was promoted to Jong Ajax within a mere 3 months. At Jong Ajax, he learned the trades of his new role at right-back, and in December 2018 he signed his first professional contract with Ajax. 

And after a series of consistent performances for the youth side, Dest finally got a chance for his breakthrough in the summer of 2019, with starting right-back Noussair Mazraoui on the sidelines with a foot injury. Starts in crucial Champions League games against Chelsea, Valencia, and Lille speak volumes of the quality he possesses, and the trust Erik ten Haag has in him. 

Photo via Imago

While Ajax didn’t make it through to the knockout stage this season, Dest showed clear signs of his high ceiling, especially against Lille where he had an important role to play in a solid 2-0 away win. 

Over the 19/20 season, Dest played 22 games for the Dutch club and checked all the boxes for becoming a potentially great modern fullback. He has a searing pace and an incredible technical ability which makes it challenging for opposition fullbacks to guess his next move. He is really proficient when it comes to beating defenders and knocking the ball past them into space to cross. 

For context, Dest attempted nearly 4.6 dribbles per 90 with a completion rate of around 55%, which is very respectable for a fullback. The apple from Ajax does not fall far from the tree, and that is evident in his passing. He attempted 47.16 passes per 90 with a completion rate of 86.25% and 0.53 key passes per 90. Moreover, he has a great cross in him, and attempted 0.7 crosses into the box per 90. His flair, wing play and eye for a pass make him a complete package as an attacking fullback. It also allowed him to either stay wide and receive the ball on the byline when Ziyech tucked in towards the goal from the right-wing, or to come inside towards the centre when Ziyech moved outwards. This also helped the Moroccan international freely display his ability and positioning. 

It is clear from his playing style that Sergino Dest would bring forth a new creative avenue along the right flank for Barcelona, but where he does lack currently is his defensive prowess. He is often caught out of position, leaving wide spaces behind him which can be exploited. He only completed 8.88 successful defensive actions per 90 last season, and while he often does well 1v1 against wingers and has the pace to go toe-to-toe with the quickest, he is often unable to make correct the correct decision, leaving him flat-footed and consequently putting the team in danger.

His short and compact build also means he is not someone who will win physical battles often. While he does win challenges up the pitch and is dribbled past seldomly, it is when he has to defend in traditional areas that he repeatedly makes errors.

Having said, that, his signing could be the lifeline Barcelona need on the right flank, but the youngster is still inexperienced, and truth be told, La Liga is a massive step up from Eredivisie. He is still a raw product and needs the right guidance. Under the correct tutelage, Barcelona could have the perfect attacking fullback they are searching for- the flair, the technical ability and the determination are all there. Sergiño Dest’s rapid rise is not just a testament to his quality but also towards his willingness to learn and adapt quickly – and Cules will hope the same continues at the Catalan club: he does have large shoes to fill after all.  

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