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Thursday, March 23, 2023

What’s gone wrong for Sergino Dest and what should his next step be?

Sergino Dest had his pick of Europe’s biggest clubs in recent years. Both Barcelona and Bayern Munich wanted the full back when he was at Ajax, with Bayern particularly keen until Ronald Koeman twisted Barca’s arm to ensure Dest ended up at Camp Nou instead. That, in hindsight, wasn’t the best career choice.

While Dest performed well enough for Koeman, he was quickly frozen out at Barcelona following the manager’s exit. After Xavi came on to coach his former club this past summer, the USA international was loaned to AC Milan.

That, unfortunately, has also proved to be a bad career choice – Dest has struggled with injury and has started just two Serie A matches for Stefano Pioli’s team this season.

It seems increasingly unlikely AC Milan will make Dest’s stay at the San Siro permanent, which means the 22-year-old is facing another critical crossroads in his still young career. Dest can’t afford another misstep if he is to fulfill his potential as one of the best American players of his generation.

The idea was that Dest would give AC Milan another attacking outlet on the right wing. However, with Theo Hernandez such a proactive presence on the left side, AC Milan tend to play with a central back three in possession. That’s where Dest’s weakness on the ball and as a natural defender has been exposed.

Davide Calabria is more comfortable than Dest as a hybrid right back-central defender while Junior Messias has proven himself as more effective as a wing back. Injuries have denied Dest the chance to build any sort of consistency, but he joined a team that has no obvious place for him in their set-up.

Barcelona have replaced Dest by signing Jules Kounde. The Frenchman has started 15 league matches for the Catalans, while Sergi Roberto has primarily occupied the wingback position. There appears to be no place for Dest back at Camp Nou. Barca are still looking to balance the books which could see Dest pushed out the door as an asset they could sell in the transfer market.

“Dest isn’t any worse than Roberto. I didn’t understand him leaving,” said Koeman, now in charge of the Netherlands national team, when asked about Barcelona’s decision to move on Dest after his departure. Xavi might argue Roberto is more comfortable pushing into central midfield with the ball at his feet.

Manchester United were linked with Dest on loan last summer due to Erik Ten Hag’s previous relationship with the American international. Now, though, their interest might have waned due to the improvement of Diogo Dalot and Aaron Wan-Bissaka over the course of the 2022/23 campaign.

It’s not beyond the realms of possible that Dest could return to his former club. Ajax have still to replace Noussair Mazraoui since he left Amsterdam for Bayern Munich last summer. Devyne Rensch has been somewhat underwhelming for the Dutch champions in the right back position this season and Dest could be seen as an upgrade.

As Dest’s Barcelona career was entering a downward spiral, there was a sense another elite level club would take a chance on him – and that proved to be the case as AC Milan signed him on loan. Half a season later and it’s now probable the 22-year-old will have to drop down the ladder by at least one rung to find regular game time.

Fulham has been home to several Americans over the years with Tim Ream currently a key member of the Cottagers’ team at this moment in time. Kenny Tete has also impressed at right back for Marco Silva’s team this season, but Dest might fancy his chances of dislodging the Dutchman from the lineup.

There would be an even greater opportunity for Dest to make a good impression at Leeds United, where Tyler Adams, Weston McKennie and Brenden Aaronson are playing. The Whites could do with a new right back – Luke Ayling is still playing in that position having been promoted with Leeds two seasons ago.

The 2022 World Cup meant several US men’s national team players hedged their bets out of fear of losing their place in the squad. Now that the tournament in Qatar behind them, players like Dest might feel more freedom to choose a new career path safe in the knowledge the next World Cup is over three years away. Talent has never been an issue for Dest, but he must be careful in picking his next club to fulfill his potential. 

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