Chelsea’s £600m gamble could be one hell of an amusing bin fire but it is not difficult to figure out what they see in young talent like Enzo Fernandez.
Who’s this then?
Enzo Jeremías Fernández is a 5ft 10ins, Buenos Aires-born, Argentinean midfielder who has just become the most expensive British transfer of all time after being bought for £107million by Chelsea. This was just seven months after Benfica had paid €10m for his signature and only a month or so since Enzo helped his country win the World Cup.
It’s been a supersonic, meteoric rise for the young player, one which began at River Plate at the age of five. He worked his way right through all of the development squads to be given his first-team debut in March 2020 in a Copa Libertadores game. However, he was sent out on loan to Defensa y Justicia, playing 33 games for them and helping them win the 2020 Copa Sudamericana and the Recopa Sudamericana.
On returning to River Plate, manager Marcelo Gallardo put him into the first team and it was at this point that his career began to take off. He played 53 games, scored 12 times and assisted 10 goals, helping them to win the Argentine top flight in 2021 and was named the best active footballer in Argentina.
At this point, lots of top European clubs got up on their hind legs and started to sniff the Enzo air. The first cab off the rank was Benfica who threw €10m at River Plate on June 23 last year to take the boy to Portugal and give him Eusébio’s No. 13.
He hit the ground running, winning Primeira Liga Midfielder of the Month in August, October and again in November. At that point he was offski to The Evil World Cup, having only made his Argentina debut two months earlier.
In total he had only played 29 games for Benfica, scoring four times and making seven assists. At which point, Chelsea stumbled into town with money spilling out of their pockets, wearing a hat at a jaunty, come-hither angle. However, Benfica played the role of the stern parent and sent them away with a flea in their ear, telling them that they could only snaffle Enzo if they met their ludicrously high €120m release clause. ‘No problem,’ said Big Head Todd and the Monsters, a little flushed and sweating after a session on the quality port and custard tarts.
And the deal was done. He was given a remarkably long eight-and-a-half-year contract to amortise the fee over as long a period as possible, to get around Financial Fair Play. To say the least, this is something of a gamble, but an exciting one.
Why the love?
Enzo Fernandez has only made 116 club appearances in his short career to date and has 18 goals and 19 assists. Throw in 10 international appearances and you’ve got a pretty inexperienced player and not one who is used to the limelight being on him as one of the world’s most expensive. Whether this will put the sort of existential pressure on him that we’ve seen curse many an expensive Chelsea transfer down the decades, remains to be seen.
So what’s so good about him? He’s played 50 games as a progressive central midfielder and 48 as a defensive midfielder. However with 11 goals and 11 assists from the former position, that’ll likely be where Graham Potter plays him. You might think that Chelsea have 427 other players they could use in midfield but this is all part of Big Head Todd And The Monsters’ plan to rebuild the Blues as a young, thrusting, dynamic team, capable of playing exciting football, replacing the old stodgy team, which can’t.
That said, it’s not like you can point to any one or two specific skills he has. Defensive or progressive, he’s just very good at almost everything. He can patrol the back four. He can be an attacking midfielder and certainly looks most dangerous playing in an advanced role. Though not the fastest rabbit out of the burrow, he is swift enough to play effective counter-attacking football. Couple this with his ability to play a more defensive, disruptive, shielding role if needed and it means Chelsea have got two players rolled into one. This is crucial for the sort of flexibility that Potter needs when changing tactics during a game.
His strengths look to be the sort of determined, direct running that always gets the crowd off their feet, and quick forward passing. This isn’t a player who will slow the pace down, rather one who will put some 4-star (remember 4-star? I remember 2-star) into the Chelsea tank. He’s got quick feet and finds space intelligently. In short, he’s an eight or a nine out of ten in everything he does, but isn’t a 10 in any of them. At least not yet. By the time his contract is up in 2031 the world will look a very different place.
Three great moments
One of the reasons Argentina won the World Cup:
Enough here to get Chelsea fans excited:
Some sizzling strikes for River Plate:
When you think of Enzo Fernandez playing in the same side as Mykhaylo Mudryk wide and David Fofana up front, it isn’t hard to see how speedy this new Chelsea will potentially be, nor how exciting.
It’s also not hard to see potential financial problems if several of the new players fail to settle and perform. Obviously, one of the definitions of an elite club is that it can afford to waste a hell of a lot of money on gambles that don’t pay off. It can afford, in effect, to fail with a lot of signings.
But when you’ve got players on your books for eight years and will be responsible for paying their wages, or part of them if loaned out, for all that time, that will put a strain on any club’s finances, especially if the amortisation loophole is closed in coming seasons.
The fact that Chelsea are deliberately building a young side means there is likely to be some inconsistency built into it for a couple of seasons. But it also means that the team will all move into its peak years at the same time.
There’s no doubt Fernandez is a real talent. The size of the fee suggests he is already better than he actually is, though. That’s just a side effect of Premier League inflation, with its millions and billions of toy money to play with.
You’d probably bet on this being a successful £600m gamble, but if it isn’t, it’ll be one hell of an amusing bin fire.