BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sergiño Dest became the first American player to join Barcelona’s top squad on Thursday after the young right back signed a five-year contract.
Barcelona paid Ajax 21 million euros ($24.7 million) plus an additional 5 million euros in add-ons to acquire the defender.
“I have no doubt that he will be a very useful player for Barça,” coach Ronald Koeman said on Wednesday when Dest arrived at the club and passed his medical.
The 19-year-old Dest will replace Nelson Semedo after his move to Wolverhampton in England, and give Koeman another option beside Sergi Roberto on the right side of the defense.
A fast, skillful wing back, Dest can defend at one end of the pitch and beat defenders to deliver crosses at the other. Born in Almere, Netherlands, he grew up in the Ajax system of free-flowing, attacking football that has had close links to Barcelona since Dutch great Johan Cruyff played and coached the Catalan team.
Barcelona will expect him to provide a threat from the right flank to balance out the deep runs made by Jordi Alba on the left. Koeman wants his wing backs to constantly join the attack, allowing the team’s forwards to take scoring positions in the box alongside Lionel Messi.
Dest is the latest piece of Barcelona’s rebuilding project under Koeman, who took over as manager following the team’s devastating 8-2 loss to Bayern Munich in the Champions League in August. The club has also brought in midfielder Miralem Pjanic, and forwards Francisco Trincão and Pedro “Pedri” González, while letting go Luis Suárez, Ivan Rakitic, and Arthur, in addition to Semedo.
Dest could be joined by another American, Konrad de la Fuente, who is in Barcelona’s reserve team. Koeman gave him playing time during the preseason and praised his performances.
Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother and chose to play for the U.S. instead of the Netherlands.
Dest committed to the U.S. team last October, a month after making his senior debut for the Americans. He still had the ability under FIFA’s rules to change his affiliation to the Dutch team as he had played only in friendlies against Mexico and Uruguay.
Dest tied his international future to the U.S. on Nov. 16, helping the team reach the CONCACAF Nations League semifinals by beating Canada 4-1. He had already played for the U.S. at the Under-17 and Under-20 World Cups.
“I’ve spoken to Sergiño about the national team, because he had the possibility to play for Holland or America,” Koeman said. “But finally a decision has to be (made) by the player, because that’s his feeling from inside … and he finally decided to play for the American national team, no problem. That’s good for American soccer.”
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