It has been a whirlwind first six months or so for Enzo Fernandez in Europe which has seen a meteoric rise, FIFA World Cup success and now possibly a big money transfer away from SL Benfica. The 21-year-old only joined the Portuguese giants from River Plate back in June yet could be about to join American-owned Chelsea with further discussions between the two clubs expected this week. Reports in Argentina say that he already has agreed to personal terms with the Blues.
Winner of the Best Young Player award at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar as part of Argentina's successful squad, Fernandez is now one of the hottest properties in world soccer. There has been no shortage of elite clubs taking an interest in the Albiceleste star but it appears that a Premier League move is the most likely outcome at present.
We take a look at how the midfielder named after Uruguay legend Enzo Francescoli has risen to prominence in such a short space of time.
There were no direct contacts today between Chelsea and Benfica for Enzo Fernández — it will be discussed again tomorrow and next week. 🔵 #CFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 31, 2022
The deal is advanced, but still waiting for Benfica final decision.
Chelsea are insisting as they feel deal can be closed next week. pic.twitter.com/hf32KDNNSd
Not even 22 until later this month, Fernandez made his professional debut with River in 2019 and excelled under Marcelo Gallardo, winning the 2021 Primera Division after a fruitful spell with Defensa y Justicia which included the 2020 Copa Sudamericana title.
In less than three years, the man from San Martin in Buenos Aires has gone from his promotion from the youth team to a world champion and consistent performer in the UEFA Champions League with Benfica after his summer switch from River.
Fernandez's move to Portugal was valued at just over $20 million back in June including bonuses that may well have not yet been activated and he could be about to move for more than six times that if his release clause of around $130 million is activated. River Plate are owed a quarter of his future transfer fee.
A large part of this meteoric rise must be attributed to Benfica and Roger Schmidt who have enabled Fernandez to shine from the moment he switched continents. As Aguias will do staggering business for a club that usually cashes in on its youth academy products more than foreign imports.
They might have lost their unbeaten record recently in a 3-0 Primeira Liga defeat to SC Braga in their final game of 2022, but Benfica are five points clear at the summit and topped their Champions League group ahead of Paris Saint-Germain thanks to a wild goal swing on the final day.
Not expected to be a key contributor for Arsenal before the World Cup, he entered after the loss to Saudi Arabia to open up the tournament and dominated in the middle of the park, establishing himself as a sure starter moving forward for Lionel Scaloni's side. It's early, but he has all of the makings of a top midfielder and showed as much in Qatar.
There is no doubt that there are many similarities with PSG's Marc Verratti, with Fernandez a central midfield-based talent capable of winning the ball back, maintaining possession, and looking to open up the team with his forward-thinking vision.
He is combative and also enjoys close-quarter confrontation and exhibits excellent technical ability in terms of his ball control, but also his passing over long and short distances -- it is little wonder that Fernandez wanted to pair with the Azzurri star at some point in his career.
In terms of anticipation, he is also very good with regularly excellent positioning to either win the ball back or to play a role in chance creation as the play moves up the field with attacking midfield not a totally unfamiliar position to him despite his preference for a berth in the middle of the park.
At the World Cup, he scored a crucial second goal against Mexico in the group stage for his first international goal, and he also assisted Julian Alvarez in the 2-0 win over Poland. He played a big role on Lionel Messi's second goal in the final in extra time, setting up Lautaro Martinez with a well-timed pass before Messi scored the rebound. Here's his goal against El Tri:
An obvious drawback with such an overnight rise is that Fernandez is very much now a star for club and country and a 21-year-old world champion. Schmidt admitted recently that the Portuguese giants must always be prepared to lose top talent, and there is a risk that Fernandez does not appreciate the club standing in his way if a deal cannot be reached in the coming weeks.
However, should the move go through at nearly $130 million, then the expectation on the player will be enormous when he joins Graham Potter's squad given the challenges that the Englishman faces in rejuvenating the free-spending Blues.
Chelsea will push again in the next hours and days to sign Enzo Fernandez. Plan is to get him immediately, not in June. Deal depends on Benfica decision now. 🔵 #CFC— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) December 31, 2022
Enzo already accepted Chelsea's contract bid, but he played as he'd never disrespect Benfica.
Up to Rui Costa. pic.twitter.com/eRhrJNlqzt
Aside from Chelsea, Real Madrid, Manchester United, and Liverpool were all touted as potential destinations for Fernandez. However, it seems futile to delve too deeply into how he could fit with any of those sides when a deal is edging closer with Chelsea.
In terms of that trio's interest, Real probably make the least sense given that Florentino Perez does like to spend big on World Cup star performers. They have breathed new life into their midfield with Aurelien Tchouameni and Eduardo Camavinga while England's Jude Bellingham is also on their radar.
Liverpool could rival Los Blancos for the Borussia Dortmund star and Fernandez or Bellingham would have made sense given that Jurgen Klopp's men need a midfield overhaul of their own. However, the Reds now look likely to miss out on both unless they can quickly win back some ground.