Who: Sergiño Dest
From Where: Ajax
To Where: Barcelona
For How Much: (reportedly) €22M/$25.8M
Grade For Barcelona: B+
Grade for Ajax: C+ (I can explain!)
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 29, 2020
SERGIÑO DEST TO BARCELONA OVERVIEW
The 19-year-old right back turned enough heads in his first season with Ajax’s first team to create a reported bidding war between the most dominant club in Europe (Bayern Munich) and … whatever you want to call Barcelona at this point. Dest ended up choosing Barcelona, signing a contract through ’25.
He performed well in Europe and domestically in ’19-20 and does not turn 20 until November, so his upside is massive. In addition to being named the USMNT‘s 2019 Young Male Player of the Year, he was also recognized as Ajax’s Talent of the Year. Previous winners of the latter include Christian Eriksen (2011) and Matthijs de Ligt (2018), to name a few.
Dest is also among 40 nominees for Italian publication Tuttosport’s Golden Boy award.
— Ajax Youth Academy (@AjaxYA) September 15, 2020
Like most fullbacks — besides Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold or Bayern’s Alphonso Davies, of course — Dest’s stats won’t blow you away (he finished last year with four assists and no goals), but he was widely considered a key piece for the best team in the Netherlands.
His former club’s track record of developing some of Europe’s biggest stars (Frenkie de Jong and de Ligt are two of the most recent examples) is a big part of his appeal.
WHO IS HE?
Amazingly, he’s just one of a slew of young players playing significant roles at European powers. The Americans have been able to boast Christian Pulisic for years now. Now, with Weston McKennie at Juventus, 17-year-old Gio Reyna at Borussia Dortmund and Tyler Adams at RB Leipzig, there’s a staggering amount of USMNT representation on Champions League clubs.
Dest has played in a couple matches for the USMNT, including last November’s CONCACAF Nations League win over Canada.
More importantly, he was a regular for the ’19-20 Ajax club. He was on Ajax’s second team, Jong Ajax of the Netherlands’ second tier, when the Dutch side made its run to the Champions League semis in ’18-19. While Ajax failed to advance out of the group stages of the Champions League last year, they won the Eredivisie again and will be back in the UCL when the ’20-21 campaign kicks off this fall.
IS THE PRICE FAIR?
This is an interesting question. The buzz about Dest, at this point, has much more to do with what he could be than what he is. Yes, he started a lot of games — 15 domestically in ’19-20 — for a very solid Ajax squad, but he was by no means one of his team’s best players, at least not in the Eredivisie.
The fact Ajax coach Erik ten Hag started Dest in his team’s ’19-20 Champions League group stage games against Chelsea, Valencia and Lille — and that Dest held up well — is a big reason why he’s on the radar for the likes of Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
Speaking of Bayern Munich, if you can sign a young player they’re interested in for a reasonable fee, you should consider yourself lucky.
WHAT IMPACT SHOULD WE EXPECT?
His competition at the position starts with Sergi Roberto (28). The club spent most of the summer indicating Roberto was among the veterans who would have smaller roles – or be off the roster – in ’20-21. At this point, though, he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere any time soon.
Dest’s arrival is unlikely to immediately relegate Roberto to the bench. The (very) optimistic prediction for Dest’s role is that he comes off the bench in most games to start the season, then usurps Roberto as Manager Ronald Koeman’s first-choice right back by the end of the season.
Koeman’s interest in Dutch players as former coach of the Netherlands national team should help Dest’s cause. The defender has committed to the USMNT, but has Dutch citizenship.
Dest’s age and versatility — he has played some left back for the USMNT — could allow him to play on either side of the formation, which will also work in his favor.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Barcelona needs to get younger and more athletic. That’s true across the board, but the back line arguably needs fresh legs more than any other group. Gerard Piqué probably has another quality year or two left, but the same doesn’t seem true for Jordi Alba or Sergi Roberto.
With Nelson Semedo off to Wolves, right back is a major position of need, and Dest is a promising potential cog there for a long time. It’s no slam dunk that he immediately holds down the position. Still, the low-cost — just over half of what Wolves are paying for Semedo — signing of a teenager who might be Barcelona’s answer at right back for a while is a good move by the Catalans.
With his current club receiving interest from both Bayern Munich and Barcelona, I understand Dest won’t be at Ajax long enough to reach the heights that de Jong and de Ligt did in Amsterdam. But if I were Ajax, I’d have dug in, setting a higher price than €22M. Dest is entering just his second season with the Dutch side. If he’s already generating this kind of interest, his sale in summer ‘21 could have generated big money (£50M, like Ben Chilwell’s??) had he excelled this year.
probably definitely shouldn’t question the ability of Ajax, of all clubs, to know when to let a young talent go. It seems, however, like his price tag may have skyrocketed if they had been able to keep him one more season.