Sergiño Dest's present and future are officially settled: he's headed to Barcelona.
The U.S. men's national team defender has secured a transfer from Ajax in a move worth over €21 million (plus additional €5 million in add-ons), with Barcelona beating Bayern Munich to the 19-year-old's signature and signing him on Thursday to a deal through June 2025. His release clause is set at €400 million, and he will be presented at Camp Nou on Friday.
Dest had been sought by both giants after rising to prominence with Ajax as an attacking right back. Barcelona's right back position became vacant when the club sold Nelson Semedo to Wolverhampton, and Dest is in line to fill it, giving another U.S. international an incredible opportunity at one of the world's preeminent clubs (Christian Pulisic, Chelsea; Weston McKennie, Juventus; Gio Reyna, Dortmund; Tyler Adams, RB Leipzig). Playing a role at Ajax is nothing to belittle, but the leap to Barcelona marks an elevation in tier and status for the Dutch-born Dest.
He will play under Ronald Koeman, the manager who tried to recruit him to play for the Netherlands when he was the national team coach, only for Dest to pick the United States. Koeman didn't miss on his second try, coming out victorious on Dest's second major career decision in less than a year.
Dest becomes the second 19-year-old U.S. international at Barcelona right now, joining forward Konrad de la Fuente, who is more likely to feature for either Barcelona B in Spain's third tier or elsewhere on loan after making appearances for the first team in preseason. He has, however, made Barcelona's traveling party for Thursday's league match vs. Celta Vigo.
As for Dest, who arrived in Barcelona Tuesday night, he has plenty still to prove. In one season with Ajax's first team, he started 15 league games (20 appearances overall), though he was more of a fixture in Europe and cup competitions. He made five starts (eight appearances) in Champions League, two starts in Europa League after a third-place group finish and five starts (with two goals) in domestic cup play. He has come off the bench in Ajax's first three games this season, though that's largely a product of the club attempting to protect an asset it was actively looking to sell.
Dest is joining a club that has been embroiled in turmoil recently. Following an embarrassing 8-2 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League quarterfinals, manager Quique Setien and sporting director Eric Abidal were fired. Koeman was hired, and immediately the club started hacking away at its aging roster, with Ivan Rakitic (Sevilla) sold. Arturo Vidal (Inter Milan) and Semedo (Wolves) were offloaded next, followed by Luis Suarez's transfer to Atletico Madrid.
The biggest grenade involved Lionel Messi expressing his desire to leave the club, but he wound up staying, largely because his contract wouldn't allow him to go for free, as he says he had been promised by club president Josep Bartomeu. Messi did have a clause that would have allowed him to leave in June, which is when the offseason should have started, only for the pandemic to delay La Liga's fixture list. His return hasn't been rosy, with Messi being highly critical of Bartomeu in his first public comments during the saga and again ripping the club for its treatment of Suarez.
Bartomeu, meanwhile, has been the target of the club's socios, with a petition to force a vote of censure and referendum on the president and board of directors securing more than 20,000 signatures. Presuming they are verified, and if two-thirds of the club's members subsequently vote against Bartomeu and the board, they'll be forced out, and elections that were slated for March will be moved forward. Beyond that, Setien released a statement recently claiming he would take legal action against the club, which he said didn't officially inform him of his firing until last Wednesday.
Nevertheless, the opportunity to feature for a club of Barcelona's stature is a striking one. Dest will rejoin his former Ajax teammate Frenkie De Jong, and he joins the long line of players to don both the Ajax and Barcelona kits in their career. When asked whether he'd been in touch with Dest and if they'd spoken about the potential to play for either Barcelona or Bayern, U.S. men's national team coach Gregg Berhalter indicated that they had been in contact and that either destination suited him just fine.
"I've been talking to Sergiño a lot in the last couple days," Berhalter told Sirius XM radio last week. "He has two great opportunities in front of him. I don't think you can go wrong with either option.
"He's in a great frame of mind ... he hasn't let it affect his performance, he hasn't let it affect his mindset. He just keeps working hard and showing a lot of maturity for a young player, for sure."
Sergi Roberto started at right back in Barcelona's season-opening 4-0 win over Villarreal on Sunday and again in Thursday's 3-0 win over Celta Vigo, but the club is otherwise thin at the position. That means Dest should have every opportunity to claim a regular place in Koeman's XI and help the club try to get back to its winning ways after its first trophy-less season in over a decade.
"I have no doubt that he will be a very useful player for Barça," Koeman said Wednesday.