Sergiño Dest on the rejuvenating powers of the World Cup: ‘I put my PlayStation in the closet’

Sergiño Dest can’t suppress his smile.

Looking back on his time in Qatar during the 2022 World Cup, Dest is unequivocal on what the tournament meant to him.

“I’m going to be honest, that was the best experience in my life so far, man,” he said.

Usually more reserved in front of the media, Dest was much more relaxed and open during an interview from his apartment in Milan earlier this week. Speaking for his sponsor, BioSteel, Dest seemed to have found a new level of clarity in the months after the World Cup. Above all, what stood out was that Dest seems happy. Something clicked in Qatar that seems to have rejuvenated him.

“I think that was the happiest moment of my life playing football in the World Cup in Qatar,” Dest said. “That really motivated me to make sure I’m ready for the next World Cup and the next and the next.”

Dest is known in US Men’s National Team circles for being himself. He can be a bit quirky and aloof at times, but the confidence he displays on the pitch as an attacking right-back also projects his comfort in being authentic. That has been true for some time, even as he sometimes clashed with typical Dutch fashion when he emerged at the Ajax academy.

These last few years have not been the easiest for Dest. He moved from Ajax to his dream club Barcelona in 2020 but fell out of favor there after two seasons and left for a new club again when he was loaned out to AC Milan last August. On Friday he was omitted from Milan’s Champions League knockout squad.

Dest said moving from Barcelona to Milan brought its own challenges, simply because of the suddenness of the loan deal.

“I had to make that decision in one day,” Dest said. “And it was like, ‘Come on or not,’ and I had to move all my stuff in one day and it was a really tough time because it’s a life-changing time, and you don’t know what your future is going to be because it’s a loan. It’s with an option to buy, but still, you don’t know it. The first couple of weeks was a little hard for me to adjust because there was a lot going on and a lot of stress in a short amount of time. My family was here, my girlfriend, they were all here but after a couple of days they also left so i slept in the hotel for a month and i was trying to find a house near the city and i lived alone in the hotel so i was just going to train and go back to the hotel and make sure I’m ready for the next training. And it was a little difficult because you get tired of it. You don’t have your own place.

Finally, on September 18, he left for a couple of games with the US. He remembers the exact date simply because it was a breakout opportunity.

Returning from USMNT friendlies in Germany and Spain, Dest settled into his new apartment and began to enjoy his new city a little more. It is not lost on Dest that, at the age of 22, he has lived in some pretty good cities: Amsterdam, Barcelona and Milan. Nor that he has played in some of the biggest clubs in the world. He spoke of feeling “the power of this badge” when he first arrived at AC Milan. He said that he has done his best to get out and enjoy the culture, and especially the food, but even with such positive things, he has had to learn to navigate the difficulty of the transience of his early professional career.

“Many people forget that you don’t just change clubs, you change your whole life in one moment,” Dest said. “Of course we have many advantages in this sport as players, but sometimes it is also very difficult mentally.”

Qatar provided a small respite from Dest’s turmoil. He arrived at the World Cup not knowing what to expect. Like all but one player on the US roster (DeAndre Yedlin), it was Dest’s first World Cup. But the relaxed atmosphere created by USA coach Gregg Berhalter and the coaching staff was a good fit for Dest’s personality. While some countries limited player access to family and friends during the tournament, player families were welcome at the US camp during the tournament. The players were also given a fair amount of freedom at the hotel, Dest said.

He fell in love with the opportunity to meet people from many different countries and cultures. She went to parties at the hotel (Dest doesn’t drink, but she said she just wanted to see the atmosphere) and she enjoyed opening the patio door of her room and listening to people watching the games in the hotel restaurants.

“I took my PlayStation, I put my PlayStation in the closet, I didn’t even turn it on once,” Dest said. “Even my friends wanted to call me and stuff. I said, ‘Brother, I’m sorry. I don’t want to call you right now. I just want to enjoy the moment, this experience. I just want to go out, walk, talk to people. I think you could really see it on the field. You could really see it on the field. I think I’m better when I have fewer worries.”

Dest said he became close to the Ghanaian security staff he met, “they were like my brothers there”, and the festive atmosphere around the games helped him.

“I was enjoying this tournament and then every time we stepped onto the field, the good weather was there, all the World Cup music,” Dest said. “I was smiling all day. I could not stop.

The relaxed atmosphere seemed to set him free on the pitch. Dest started all four games for the US, logging 309 of a possible 360 ​​minutes, assisted on Christian Pulisic’s game-winning goal against Iran and played some of his best soccer in a US jersey.

“I could feel it, I think everybody could see it (on the field) too,” Dest said. “I wasn’t really thinking, I was just enjoying football, which is the way it should be, always. In the past, obviously, sometimes it was difficult. Sometimes I felt a little more uncomfortable. You have bad moments in your career, obviously, and then you feel like you’re thinking too much and you obviously don’t enjoy it as much. But in this World Cup I was like, good weather, good atmosphere, I’m enjoying life, and it was like nothing could go wrong.

Dest said he was surprised by the drama surrounding the US men’s team since they returned from the tournament. Dest said he was unaware of the problems between winger Gio Reyna and Berhalter during the course of the tournament, only finding out after the teams were at home. He did not want to comment on the situation.

“I’m the type of person who minds my own business,” Dest said. “I’m just doing my thing. And I didn’t hear much or too much about it. …I wasn’t really asking people too many questions and stuff because I don’t know what’s true. And it’s not, to be honest, my business. It’s not my problem to get involved.”

Dest also said he can’t control who will coach Team USA next, but he only hopes they can carry on the momentum of a tournament he has seen as positive.

“Gregg has helped us a lot,” Dest said. “Obviously he’s been here with us for four years, I’ve been here in the national team for three or four years and he let me debut so I really appreciate it of course. I think, so far, he has helped us a lot. But if he has to stay or has to go, I think it’s not up to me to say. It’s not my decision. I just want to continue in the right direction with the team and if it’s with Gregg, if that’s the best solution, then we should do it with Gregg, and if it’s another coach, then we should do it with him. But I think the most important thing is that the team is going in the right direction and is developing to participate in tournaments at the highest level and really win prizes.”

Dest said he is looking forward to the opportunity to continue to represent the US internationally. He was excited to hear about the 2024 Copa América, though he was quick to say that he wanted it to be played in South America and for the US to get off the Nations League rosters to ensure the US qualified for the tournament. .

For now, though, he’s focused on trying to help Milan turn their season around, although it’s been a bit of a bumpy tenure for him there. His playing time has been spotty and exclusion from the Champions League team is obviously not ideal.

Dest’s time in Barcelona and Milan has also coincided with difficult moments in their respective power clubs. Barcelona have been battling major financial problems in recent years, while Milan are on a six-game winless run and are coming off a 3-0 loss to rivals Inter in the Super Cup, a 4-0 loss. against Lazio and a 5 -2 defeat against Sassuolo. They will face Inter again on Sunday. Dest missed the Sassuolo loss with a muscle injury, but said he will be fit for the Inter game.

“It’s a really difficult time right now,” Dest said. “I don’t know what went wrong. I feel like right now it’s like we’re not really playing (convincingly), especially in possession, I feel like we’re not focused enough. Hopefully we’ll get that rhythm back as soon as possible, because training is going well, everyone is focused and stuff, but then in a game that turns out to be not good, not good enough, for sure”.

(Photo: David Ramos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images)