Today, Barcelona officially announced the signing of Sergiño Dest, a 19-year-old right back, from Ajax. The fact that Barcelona was able to add one of the most promising attacking full backs in the world, in doing so shoring up a position that’s been a glaring weakness for years, should excite fans of the Blaugrana. The fact that Dest is a goddamn AMERICAN who just got plucked up by ONE OF THE BIGGEST CLUBS IN THE WORLD where the TEENAGER will be given every opportunity to become a SUREFIRE, WEEK IN, WEEK OUT STARTER, a potential FOUNDATIONAL PIECE for a new era at MOTHERFUCKING BARCELONA, has me, a fan of both Barça and the USMNT, frantically sprinting around the house, doing cartwheels down the hallway, screaming “OOOHHHHH SERGIÑO DEEEESSSSSSSST” to the tune of “Seven Nation Army,” on the cusp of either a brain aneurysm or an eviction notice or both.
It’s hard to overstate what this means, though I have tried my best to do so. Even more so than the Christian Pulisic-to-Chelsea deal, this feels like the culmination of something, the new high-water mark of the Golden Era that’s hopefully just beginning. Pulisic is much further along the path to true stardom than Dest, and going to Chelsea for a huge fee was and still is extremely cool, but Chelsea isn’t Barcelona. For Dest to join Barcelona as the new heir to Dani Alves’s throne, and the idea that we will one day soon see Dest suiting up alongside Lionel Messi on a Saturday and then the next Thursday watch him pull on a USMNT shirt in international play—it’s just too cool! Let’s fucking go! You can bang on the wall all you want, guy in Apt. 2C, I will not stop running and shouting and acting like a madman!
What’s most promising about the union between Dest and Barça is that it makes so much sense for both parties. Both are exactly what the other needs. Dest is good for Barcelona because Barcelona has been dying for an attacking right back who can break down defenses with his passing, dribbling, and interplay in tight spaces without much help. Barcelona is good for Dest because Dest is the kind of full back who is so attack-minded that, to maximize his strengths and minimize his weaknesses, he almost has to play for a big club that will dominate the ball and ask him to make more wending runs into opposition territory than sliding tackles near his own box. It’s always a risk when a young, still-developing player succumbs to a big club’s siren song only to find competition fierce, playing time sparse, and patience limited. This shouldn’t be the case with Dest in Barcelona. Barça needs Dest to play and to thrive, and for his particular skill set, there’s no better place for Dest to realize his massive potential.
I won’t go into a long breakdown of Dest’s game here, mostly because his talent is so clear that you only need to watch about a minute or so of the above video to get what he’s about. (Though if you do want something more in depth, check this out. Fellow monoglots: turn on captions and auto-translate to English.) Suffice it to say, Dest is of the Marcelo mold of outrageously skillful attacking full backs. He gets on the ball and he looks more like a No. 10 than a “defender.”
Now, the 19-year-old is far from a finished product, and he’s certainly no sure thing. Players of his type can easily boom or bust. The line separating a Marcelo from a Kenedy isn’t all that thick. If Dest doesn’t polish his game—bone up on his defending, learn more discipline, choose better when to join attacks and when to stay back, etc.—it wouldn’t surprise if his career at Barcelona stalls out and he finds himself a mid-table winger in the future. But all you can ask a player and a club is to put themselves in the best position to succeed, and that’s exactly what looks to have happened here.
As for What This Means For American Soccer, the answer is somewhere between “not much” and “a whole lot, what are you, a joyless idiot?” Dest was born in the Netherlands to a Dutch mother and an American father. Because he was born, bred, and trained entirely in the Netherlands—he hadn’t even stepped foot in the U.S. until 2014, when he and his father went to visit family in New York City—his growth and development as a player doesn’t offer much of a blueprint for how the U.S. can develop more talent.
But not every emerging American soccer player needs to be a Sherpa indicating new paths for others to follow along the long climb to national greatness. When you find a guy who wants to be on your team, who actively turns down a much better team to stick with yours, and he’s as good as Dest, you don’t worry about the fact that he’s far too advanced to teach his teammates how to copy his game. Instead, you thank your lucky stars and stripes that he’s willing to play with you at all, and you sit back and enjoy the show. Just try not alienate your entire apartment building while doing it.