‘Iit’s all gone too fast,” says Enzo Fernández as he reflects on breaking into the first team at River Plate, emerging from the shadows to become a major figure in Argentina’s World Cup triumph and “nerves throbbing” as the minutes ticked away before. he eventually joined Chelsea for £106.8m on the final day of the transfer window.
“It’s really only been three years, my professional career. A lot has happened in a very short time. I still feel like I’m in an apprenticeship – a learning period, still a learning curve.”
That might sound like a strange analysis from the most expensive player in English football history, but, coming from the former Benfica midfielder, it’s right. Voted the best young player at the World Cup, Fernández has never pretended to have all the answers.
The 22-year-old only moved to Europe last summer and, when he made his debut for River three years ago, he was no slouch. he thought about the lack of further playing opportunities, went on loan and continued his development at Defensa y Justicia under the guidance of former Chelsea and Argentina striker Hernán Crespo.
“I’ve learned something at every stage of my career,” says Fernández. “But you’d have to say River was the club where I really learned my stuff. They really developed me as a person, on and off the field. River were the ones who opened the door to Europe for me. Then, winning the World Cup with this amazing group of players is a dream, isn’t it?
“It is so difficult to win the World Cup. But we had players with skills and a very strong mentality. You never lose that desire to learn. That’s always been about my style, my game and my training – wanting to improve, wanting to be better as a footballer and as a man.”
Fernández is easy company for 30 minutes at Chelsea’s training ground. He answers in Spanish but his English is improving. He occasionally stops the interpreter’s translation to offer a little more detail. The feeling is that Fernández is not bothered by the fuss around him. “These figures have nothing to do with me,” he says of his transfer fee. “It’s part of football. My job is to go out there and do my best.”
Chelsea may have found their next leader. Fernández, who says the club went “all guns blazing” to sign him, rejects suggestions he let down in January in a bid to force Benfica to sell him. He is relaxed about Chelsea’s poor form. They signed eight players last month and their owners have spent more than £500m since last summer.
However, Graham Potter’s side are 10th in the Premier League before visiting Tottenham on Sunday, have struggled to score in a run of two wins in 14 games and are in danger of being knocked out of the Champions League by Borussia Dortmund.
“When you have so many young lads and we’ve all had 20 days to get to know each other, when you talk about the standard of football here, it’s hard to gel as a team,” says Fernández. “But we’ve been given all the tools we need by the coaching staff and the coach. It’s just a case of patience.”
Chelsea were booed after losing at home to Southampton last week. “My message to the fans would be to never forget that we represent you,” says Fernández. “Trust us. Trust the players, trust the backroom staff, trust the manager. Because we’re all moving in the same direction. It’s a restructuring of the club. We’re going to try to win games, starting on Sunday. Then we can start to turn things around.” things”.
Fernández, who has signed an eight-and-a-half-year contract, offers hope. He was outstanding during his six months at Benfica, helping them win their Champions League group stage. He can pick a pass, control a play, create a goal and shoot. He has also formed a quick connection with João Félix. Fernández, who set up Félix’s goal in the recent draw with West Ham, is hoping Chelsea buy the Atlético Madrid loanee.
“He called me when I got here to ask if he could help,” says Fernández. “When you mess with someone it helps on the field. He’s a great player, isn’t he? Hopefully Chelsea will do everything they can to keep him.”
Fernández, who is named after former Uruguay striker Enzo Francescoli, appreciates the talent. He thinks about watching English football when he grows up in Buenos Aires. “I was always an early riser. I know the times – on Sunday mornings we used to tune in for the Premier League. Four hours difference in winter, three hours in summer.
“We were watching teams like Chelsea, Manchester United and I knew the Argentinians were playing here. [Sergio] Kun Aguero, [Carlos] Tevez, [Gonzalo] Higuain. I’m the youngest, my brothers and sisters had their own houses, so it would be me and my dad in bed with fellow – herbal tea – watching TV.”
The love for football is clear. When Lionel Messi retired from international football in 2016, 15-year-old Fernández begged him to reconsider. Seven years later, they were teammates at the World Cup.
Fernández was the symbol of a new generation of Argentina. But he was a substitute when Argentina were stunned by Saudi Arabia in their opening game in Qatar. The second game against Mexico was tense. It was still 0-0 when Fernández came on. But Messi created the tension seven minutes later and Fernandez made it 2-0 with a superb shot. “She was invaluable at the time,” he says. “Messi? It’s not even up for debate. He is the best player of all time. It was a real privilege to share a dressing room with him.”
Argentina started, with Fernández pulling the strings in midfield, and won an incredible final against France. Messi had inspired them. “He’s one of those leaders who is really positive all the time, both in the example he sets in his game and on a human level in the dressing room,” says Fernández. “He is down to earth and kind to everyone. It offers support to everyone in the team, from the biggest stars to the youngsters.
“I felt very aware that he was with me all the way, giving me a lot of moral support. It was my biggest dream ever – to play with Messi. To then go on in this team to win the World Cup, it’s almost like God has given me a huge gift.” Are Messi and God different? “No, maybe not,” Fernandez smiles. “What can I take from that moment with him? Energy. It was a special dressing room, a living dressing room.
“Energy, positivity and a real will to win, but also staying humble. I know I’m still young and I have to keep learning, but maybe tomorrow, maybe sometime in the future, I want to really show that I’m a leader.”