For all the talk of 19-year-old Sergino
Dest moving to a big European club -- Bayern Munich, Barcelona and Paris St. Germain have all been mentioned -- he is still a kid fighting for playing time and trying to improve himself.
Despite his breakout season in 2019-20, Dest began Ajax's Eredivisie opener at Sparta Rotterdam on the bench. But he was inserted into the game in the 32nd minute when starting left back Nicolas Tagliafico was issued a straight red card. Dest had a solid game and helped Ajax win, 1-0.
If that sounds like a familiar story, it is. Dest, only 18 when he was invited to the first team's training camp in 2019, took advantage of several breaks to jump into the Ajax lineup last season.
Tagliafico was just returning from vacation after the Copa America with Argentina when the Dutch season began, Dest, fresh off the Under-20 World Cup in Poland, started in his place in the Johan Cruyff Shield, the preseason meeting of the previous season's league and cup champions, and had an excellent game.
Dest's natural position is right back, where Noussair Mazraoui was the starter, but the Dutch-born Morocco international was injured early in the season, and Dest stepped in and held the starting job through most of the season.
Dest, who doesn't turn 20 until November, was so good that interest came from across Europe. Talk of a possible move to Bayern Munich accelerated when he was seen at Bayern's home game with Hoffenheim in February -- Dest said he went on his own to check things out -- but transfer talk ended in March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
The Dutch season never resumed -- Ajax was in first place on goal difference over AZ but no champion was declared -- and a deal for Dest was never concluded.
Bayern Munich still remains the favorite to sign Dest. Its starting right back is French World Cup champion Benjamin Pavard, and backup Alvaro Odriozola returned to Spain after a six-month loan deal with Real Madrid ended. With Pavard injured, Joshua Kimmich started at right back in Bayern's run to the 2020 UEFA Champions League title, but he is too valuable in midfield.
New Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman tried to recruit Dest to play for the Dutch national team last year when he was still the Oranje head coach and is still high on Dest, saying "he could adapt easily in any club.” Barca needs help at right back, but it will likely turn to a most experienced player and cannot afford, like Bayern can, to acquire Dest as a backup.
What does Dest think of all the transfer talk?
"I just play at Ajax," he said late in preseason. "It's nice when you hear rumors like that, but I live in the moment. I still have a lot to improve, so I'm going to work on those points for attention at Ajax. We'll see what happens later."
Dest, who said he still needs to work on his crossing and his shooting, battled with Mazraoui for the right-back job last season was behind him in preseason.
"And that will be the case again this season," Dest added. 'There is always a struggle between us. Healthy competition. We are not dirty with each other, we are just relaxed. But it is fighting for your place. May the best player win. And when I end up on the bench, I know I have to work harder."