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After his sublime performance in the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar in which he not only helped Lionel Messi vanquish Kylian Mbappé and Les Bleus to earn Argentina its third title, but also win the “Best Young Player” award at the tournament, 21-year-old midfielder Enzo Fernandez has established himself one of the hottest talents in all of football. Now his success on the international stage has made him the key target of Chelsea, who are reportedly interested in paying a massive fee to acquire his services in the January transfer window.
Long before he showcased his talents in Qatar, Fernandez was already making a name for himself. He joined the academy for Argentine professional club River Plate in 2006, at just 5 years old. Thirteen years later, Fernandez made his professional debut with the senior squad, playing sporadically through the 2019-2020 season. A loan move the following year to the Buenos Aires-based Defensa y Justicia allowed him to shine under the tutelage of ex-Chelsea striker and club manager Hernan Crespo, while playing just 14 games, contributed to the squad's Copa Sudamericana title – South America's Europa League equivalent. As his talents rapidly evolved, Fernandez returned to River Plate, but his time there would be short-lived, as Europe beckoned; he signed with Portuguese club Benfica on a nearly $12 million transfer in June 2022.
Benfica’s not-so-secret weapon
Less than three years into his professional career, Fernandez went from youth standout to a consummate talent for Benfica, consistently performing well for the Portuguese giant in both their domestic league and the UEFA Champions League. Thanks to his efforts, Benfica sits at the apex of the Primeira Liga with five points to spare, and have even managed to surpass a Messi-led Paris Saint-Germain in their Champions League group. It's been with Benfica that Fernandez's exquisite ball control and superb technical ability have propelled him to be a world-class box-to-box midfielder, able to manage possession, contribute with incisive passing in attack and short-circuit opponent's forays forward.
World Cup splash
Once Argentina manager Lionel Scaloni called him up to the national squad in September for friendlies against Jamaica and Honduras, there was no looking back for Fernandez. He made an immediate impact, assisting on a Messi goal en route to a 3-0 victory over Honduras in Miami. Despite riding the pine as Argentina fell 2-1 to Saudi Arabia in their first group match in Qatar, he came on as a sub against Mexico and scored his first international goal in La Albiceleste’s 2-0 victory in their second match. He added an assist on a Julian Alvarez goal in Argentina’s 2-0 win over Poland to secure advancement out of the group stage. This earned him a starting spot on Scaloni’s side moving forward in the tourney. World Cup viewers will also forever remember his vital role in the build-up to Messi’s second goal in the final against France, setting up Lautaro Martinez with a timely ball on the rush, leading to a shot on target and Messi's rebound goal. With such a strong, it’s no wonder that the creative midfielder with incredible touch won the “Best Young Player” award in Qatar.
Premier League next?
Though there’s reportedly been significant interest from Real Madrid, Manchester United and Liverpool, Chelsea boss Graham Potter is keen bring Fernandez over to Stamford Bridge, according to CBS Sports. And judging by the mind-boggling numbers being thrown around, money is clearly of no object. The burgeoning superstar could fetch more than $130 million, but that’s a small price to pay for the Blues if they can unleash his massive potential and revitalize an aging midfield.
If he does make the jump to Chelsea and the Premier League, especially at the fee being reported, he'll face a tremendous amount of pressure to make his mark quickly, which the Blues will need if they have hope of preserving their shot at a top-four finish and a guarantee of Champions League football next season. But even at his young age, he's shown the ability to meet the moment and could be a guiding light for Chelsea for years to come.
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