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What now for USMNT star Dest at Barcelona after January transfer stalemate?

18:15 GMT 01/02/2022
SERGINO DEST BARCELONA
The defender was linked with a move away from Camp Nou after falling down the pecking order under Xavi amid the return of Dani Alves to Camp Nou

As the clock ticked down towards Monday's transfer deadline, it became clear that Sergino Dest would not be leaving Barcelona.

Despite links to Chelsea, Bayern Munich and Ajax, and the challenges he has faced in recent months, the U.S. men's national team full-back is staying at Camp Nou.

What also became clear is that Dest, once again, is willing to bet on himself and make things work at Barca.

He is willing to stick it out and try to prove himself to his new coach, Xavi, as he aims to become more than just a good attacking full-back.

Over the last few months, Dest has experienced the downsides of playing for a club the size of Barcelona.

Brought to the club by Ronald Koeman in 2020, Dest initially found himself a big piece of the Bluagrana's plans. The 21-year-old made 41 appearances during his first season in Spain, due mostly to his versatility as he emerged as Koeman's Swiss Army Knife.

But much has changed at Barca over the last few months. Koeman is long gone, dismissed in October after a poor start to the season, and in has come club legend Xavi to right the ship.

Xavi, though, was not the only Barca icon to make his return to Catalunya in late 2020, as Dani Alves also returned to provide cover at the full-back position.

As such, life under Xavi has been difficult for Dest. Injuries and a dip and form have seen him fall down the pecking order under the iconic midfielder, with the most damning moment being the decision to leave him out altogether from Barca's SuperCopa squad to face Real Madrid on January 12.

That decision came amid a series of transfer rumors, linking Dest with a Barca exit as his role in the team appeared to be under threat.

But he opted not to leave. Dest, who has a contract with the club through 2025, is determined to stick it out.

"Sergino feels good in Barcelona," Michael Reschke, Dest's agent, told Ran. "It’s a great club. That’s why it’s actually rather unlikely (that he leaves) at the moment."

The good news is that it has gotten better since then. Dest started Barca's last game before the international break, playing the full 90 minutes in a win over Alaves, and the American seems determined to fight for his place.

His recent performance for the U.S. will only further that. Dest remains the USMNT's No. 1 right-back and, thanks to Antonee Robinson's emergence at the left-back spot, there are few calling for the return of that inverted experiment.

Despite competition from the likes of Reggie Cannon and DeAndre Yedlin, Dest's spot is all but secure as the U.S. looks to book their spot at the 2022 World Cup this winter.

Dest played all 90 minutes in the win over El Salvador on Thursday, and proceeded to follow that up with one of his better defensive performances in a U.S. shirt against Canada on Sunday, despite the 2-0 loss.

Going against one of CONCACAF's most dangerous wingers in Tajon Buchanan, Dest largely locked down the right side of the field. There were moments of frustration on the attacking end, namely a minor scuffle with Buchanan as the U.S. pushed for an equalizer, but it was largely a good performance on a bad day for Gregg Berlhalter's team.

Against Canada, Dest was not dribbled past once, showing that he can provide that defensive presence needed to play full-back at a higher level.

But that remains the biggest question that Dest needs to answer going forward: can he do it defensively? Everyone knows he can attack, can dribble, can cross and can shoot, but does he have the discipline to do the work at both ends of the field?

The answer to that question will be what determines whether or not Dest can become a fixture for Barcelona, or for any other club at the elite level and put himself among those who are deemed world class.

If Dest wants to get anywhere near the peak level of his new team-mate Dani Alves, he will have to prove to Xavi that he is more than just an attacker. And his national team manager, Berhalter, is backing him to do exactly that.

"He's a competitor and he's a guy that I can see waiting for an opportunity, and when he gets his opportunity, performing well,'' the USMNT coach said earlier this month.

"He's resilient and he has the right mindset to do it. He's been working hard. He had a little injury setback at the end of the year with his back, but he's committed to making it work.''

Dest has a few months left in the season to make it work. If he does, we will look back at this moment as a turning point, one that pushed him to become a better player.

But if he does not, those transfer rumblings will only grow louder heading into the summer window.