“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.
Messi looks far from his best but continues to break records
Lionel Messi continues to break records despite coming close to the twilight of his career, making fans jump in the match against Ferencvaros. Every football fan knows that for the Argentine, team performance is more pivotal than personal acclamation. However, lately, Barcelona’s talisman was struggling a lot in the new system. Just when the fans were about to believe that the alien magic might never happen as part of Ronald Koeman’s Barca – it happened.
The abysmal start of this season showed a lack of thrill in Barcelona’s captain under Barcelona’s new boss. The speculations had already begun that the relatively cold Messi-Koeman relationship will affect both the captain and the overall team’s performance. These conjectures got more hype when Messi magic failed in La Liga’s four matches so far.
Slow start of the season
While struggling in a new role, Lionel Messi was able to score only one goal, which too was from a penalty. It is needless to say that the key caveat behind this was Argentine staying at Camp Nou against his will.
His performance in the league raised questions over his passion, and his keenness to be a part of the team anymore. Fans predicted that Messi would not be able to blossom under the new coach’s tactics. It was not about physical and technical challenges the talisman was mentally struggling too.
Messi looked to struggle initially. (Photo by GABRIEL BOUYS/AFP via Getty Images)
During this chaos, things got worse when the forward failed to save Barcelona from Getafe as they fell 1-0 to the Madrid outfit in La Liga on Saturday. This defeat was the final nail in the coffin full of opinions that the best ever is not dedicated enough to save the Catalans anymore.
When the Blaugrana’s savior is constantly struggling in new positions and the overall team’s atmosphere is woeful, it is natural to lose hope. However, whenever the world doubted the king, he has proven it wrong. Thus, the talisman’s loyalists kept praying for the miracle.
Tuesday night came with that long-awaited miracle. Barcelona’s superstar continues to break records, stealing the headlines. He once again managed to prove the world wrong in a 5-1 victory game against Ferencvaros in the Champions League.
3 Records in 90 minutes
Lionel Messi had the fans and the opposition both left in eye-gazing awe, as he broke three records in a single game against Ferencvaros.
Barcelona’s captain opened the scoring from a penalty while leading the team on the four other occasions. Back in 2005, at the age of 18, Messi scored his first goal in the Champions League, and as now equalled Ryan Giggs’ record for scoringi in 16 seasons straight.
Messi also further pushed his own record of scoring the most goals in the Champions League group stages by scoring his 69th goal yesterday, pushing him six ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo, who is second in this list.
Additionally, with his goal, Ferencvaros became Messi’s 36th victim team in Champions League. He was previously the record holder at 35 games, which makes it even more bizarre.
Three records down in one game – just Leo Messi things. (Photo by LLUIS GENE/AFP via Getty Images)
Barca boss admitted before the game that their superstar is struggling and could do better. However, Koeman’s prediction came true when he was full of praise for the Argentine after the game.
All these records add to the impressive Champions League collection of Lionel Messi. Putting the records aside, his performance during this match was pleasing to see. This game came as a signal that the curse has been broken and good things are on their way. Now, this can be further strengthened against Real Madrid this weekend.