Ajax midfielder and United States men's national player Sergino Dest said he was surprised by the reaction caused by his decision to leave the Dutch club's winter training camp in Qatar last week amid regional political tensions between the U.S. and Iran.
Dest was in Doha with Ajax but requested to return early to the Netherlands on Jan. 9, five days after the U.S. squad had cancelled their own training camp in the Qatari capital.
A U.S. military airstrike in Baghdad on Jan. 3 killed Iran's top military commander Qasem Soleimani, which prompted Iran to retaliate on Jan. 7 by launching missiles at an Iraqi military base that housed American troops. There were no reported deaths in that attack.
The U.S team were to travel to Doha and begin their two-week training camp the day after the airstrike on Soleimani. Although there were no reported threats toward the team or players, the U.S. Soccer Federation made the decision out of abundance of caution to relocate the camp.
Speaking to FOX Sports Netherlands on Monday, Dest said he didn't expect his decision would "be such a big headline."
"I just didn't feel comfortable there and I have spoken about that with the staff and they understood and let me go home," Dest said. "As I said, it shocked me that went on to [become] such a big thing."
Ajax manager Erik ten Hag said that Dest had felt uncomfortable in Doha and the club flew him back home early. Ajax executive Edwin van der Sar added that the situation was made a much bigger deal than what it was, and the player agreed.
Dest added that he felt that the club supported him and his family on the situation, saying: "They really helped me. And now I am focusing on football again."
Dest declared for the USMNT in October after turning down approaches from the Netherlands. He has three caps for the U.S. national team, along with 14 appearances for Ajax this season.
The U.S. Soccer Federation remains hopeful that a different trip to Qatar, host country of the 2022 World Cup, can be organized later.