“I see myself staying at Barca.”

Although he seemed a little nervous, Sergino Dest’s message was clear. And maybe it’s because of the club’s financial situation, maybe because it’s his style, but Xavi has decided that this pre-season, everyone starts from zero.

The Barcelona manager has said it in press conferences, and he has said it in private. Last summer, Alejandro Balde impressed him so much that he became the team’s first-choice left-back, leaving Jordi Alba on the bench.

There are plenty of players looking to impress Xavi this year, but 22-year-old United States international Dest sounds especially motivated.

“I have to prove myself,” he told The Athletic in a group interview with several media outlets. “I’m fully focused on myself at the moment. It’s up to me. I feel like I can do it. My mindset is to stay here and to have a really nice season with Barca.”

Spain’s champions are certainly in need of further strength at right-back. Although the team’s defence was one of last season’s great successes, centre-back Jules Kounde played the position most regularly and has since expressed his desire to return to his natural spot.



Barcelona’s right-back situation: Jules Kounde and fresh start for USMNT’s Sergino Dest

Without a pure right-back — Hector Bellerin failed to convince and left mid-season; midfielder Sergi Roberto also played there and without the budget to sign a top player, Kounde has accepted that the position will continue to be his. Dest knows that his return from a season-long loan at AC Milan comes at a good time, but he also knows he has work to do — and has spoken with Xavi on that very subject.

Xavi with Dest (green bib) and his Barcelona team-mates in training (Photo: Urbanandsport/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

“I don’t want to give too much information about what we discussed, but at the end of the day he told me: ‘OK I’ll give you a fair chance to prove yourself.’ So that’s what it is at the moment,” Dest said.

“He told me: ‘I think you have qualities but it’s up to you, you have to show me.’ And I fully agree.

“I feel that with what happened last season with me, I have to have a fast start. I’m here to prove myself.”

Dest was loaned to Milan on deadline day last September, but things did not go to plan. He made just eight Serie A appearances (only two of them as a starter) and by the halfway stage of the campaign the Italian club had already decided not to exercise their option to make the move permanent.



Sergino Dest: The story of the American right-back who got his Barca dream move

Milan wanted Dest, whose Barcelona contract runs until the summer of 2025, to provide competition for Davide Calabria after Alessandro Florenzi was injured in late August. His Serie A debut, against Napoli at San Siro in September, set the tone for what was to come: he came on at half-time and after 10 minutes gave away a penalty that Matteo Politano converted for the away-side’s opener in a 2-1 win.

“Everybody could see that it was a little bit difficult last season,” Dest said. “I had some difficulties.”

“Mentally it’s not that easy. I did a good job to stay strong and focus on my own game. At the moment, everything is back on track. I have a second chance and it’s up to me. It’s a really difficult moment in my career. And in my life as well. But I’ve got way stronger, mentally.

“You can look at it in two ways. You can look at it in a negative way, like everything is going bad, or you can just keep trying to find a positive way in the negative things that happen. That was what I did.

“I always looked at it positively and I was like: ‘OK, at the moment I’m not playing, I’m not doing so well, but I can just work on myself individually.’ So that’s what I did. I feel like all these times, even if you’re not playing you can always work on yourself. You can always improve, and nobody is perfect, so everybody can still work on themselves.”

Dest in a rare appearance for Milan last season (Photo: Giuseppe Maffia/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

One of his team-mates with the US team, Christian Pulisic, has signed for Milan this summer. He asked Dest for advice.

“I gave him my honest opinion,” Dest said. “What I experienced in the club. I’m not negative at all. What I’ve just done is give him the facts.

“At the end of the day, it’s all up to him. Everybody has their own career, their own path. So what happened to me isn’t supposed to be happening to him. I just told him that it’s a really nice club. The city is also nice. But at the end of the day it’s your choice. And you have to see what is best for your future.”

As fate would have it, the two players could face each other during their pre-season tour. Barca will play Milan on August 2.

“It will be nice to play against him. I just have to do my best and make sure that, if we face each other on the field, I’m the boss. I’m looking forward to it.”

But before that friendly fixture, the Catalans will play Real Madrid, in a pre-season Clasico, on July 29.

“There is always magic in a Clasico,” Dest said.

“You never know what is going to happen but it is always a surprise for all the fans. I think this is the best game of football.

“It’s always a nice game to play and for the fans to see it up close with the USA tour is really special, especially for the American fans. We will try to entertain everybody and win the game.”

Barcelona’s pre-season tour in the US

  • July 22: Juventus, Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara (10:30pm ET)
  • July 26: Arsenal, SoFi Stadium, Inglewood (10:30pm ET)
  • July 29: Real Madrid, AT&T Stadium, Arlington (5:00pm ET)
  • August 1: AC Milan, Allegiant Stadium, Las Vegas (11:00pm ET)

(Top photo: Pau Barrena/AFP via Getty Images)