BARCELONA, Spain (AP) — Sergiño Dest has a new contract, a new club, and the same old goal of following in the footsteps of Dani Alves.
The speedy defender is the first American to be signed for Barcelona’s senior team, where Alves spent eight years of a career that started during the hugely successful Pep Guardiola era.
“Dani Alves is my role model,” Dest said of the Brazilian right back on Friday at his presentation. “From watching his videos on YouTube I learned a lot from him. And now I can ask his teammates like Lionel Messi for tips, because I want to be a player like him.”
Barcelona paid Ajax 21 million euros ($24.7 million), plus an additional 5 million euros ($5.8 million) in add-ons, to acquire the 19-year-old defender.
Dest has a Surinamese-American father and Dutch mother and chose to play for the United States instead of the Netherlands, where he was born and raised. He committed to the U.S. team last October, a month after making his senior debut for the Americans.
Now he is committed to Barcelona.
“It means a lot to me that I am the first American to wear this jersey,” said Dest, a day after signing a five-year contract with the five-time European champions. “I feel very honored. I really want to get started with this team. It is a dream club for me.”
Dest said having Ronald Koeman as coach, another Dutchman, makes the transition easier, but that his decision to choose Barcelona over other top European clubs like Bayern Munich was based on a deeper desire.
“Bayern is a great club, but I just followed by heart,” he said. “I thought Barça is the right decision for me. I made my dream come true.”
Dest said he would like to make his debut on Sunday when Barcelona plays Sevilla. Barcelona has won its first two games this season, making a good start after Koeman took over following its embarrassing 8-2 loss to Bayern in the Champions League in August.
The Bayern debacle led to Barcelona overhauling its squad. Dest was signed to take the place of Nelson Semedo, who was sold to Wolverhampton Wanderers. Dest will likely share time with Sergi Roberto at right back.
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.
Technical director Ramón Planes said Dest is part of a rejuvenation of a squad that had been exposed as past its prime by Bayern. Barcelona has also brought in 17-year-old forward Pedro “Pedri” González and 20-year-old Francisco Trincão while featuring 17-year-old Ansu Fati in attack.
“I think that Barça is getting a player of the future,” Planes said. “He will adapt quickly given his attacking profile and having come up through the Ajax school with a philosophy similar to ours.
“We are working day after day to leave a good inheritance for the future and I am sure that people will be grateful for it,” Planes said.
United States coach Gregg Berhalter said the move to one of the world’s top clubs is a huge step forward for Dest.
“We are so proud of Sergiño,” Berhalter told CBS Sports. “It’s very hard to turn down Barcelona, and I think he’s in a great spot where he will keep developing.”
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