What is Enzo Fernandez? A defensive midfielder? Box-to-box? Maybe he can’t be put in your tiny little boxes. Unnerving, isn’t it?
Chelsea have reportedly offered Benfica over €127m for Enzo Fernandez in a 900% mark-up on the man the Portuguese side signed from River Plate just six months ago. It would be an extraordinary deal for a player who’s had an extraordinary time of it recently.
Having made his senior international debut at the end of September, Fernandez scored his first international goal in the World Cup Group C win over Mexico, claimed his first international assist in his first international start against Poland four days later, and then played every minute of the knockout rounds as Argentina earned their third gold star.
As the 21-year-old engine of that World Cup-winning midfield, and a player currently contracted to one of the great selling clubs in Benfica, the transfer vultures didn’t take long to circle. Liverpool ‘fell in love’ with Fernandez, having already liked him before the tournament. Manchester United are also thought to be keen. But Chelsea look set to blow them both out of the water, according to reports which claim Todd Boehly is ready to go above and beyond the €120m release clause to land Fernandez in January.
Fernandez could yet stay at Benfica until the end of the season, with one Portuguese report claiming the midfielder optimistically believes Benfica can win the Champions League this term. He’s in no rush, but Chelsea are.
Denis Zakaria arrived on loan from Juventus at the end of the summer window to tide them over, but with Jorginho and N’Golo Kante both seemingly on their way out when their contracts expire at the end of the season, Chelsea are in desperate need of a new central midfielder. And with Boehly and Graham Potter’s plan to cut the average age of the squad and starting XI in mind, Fernandez would be the perfect addition. Competition for his signature will surely only increase in the summer, when clubs have ducks in rows.
Only Achraf Hakimi (26) and Mateo Kovacic (24) – who could start alongside Fernandez in quite the dogged Chelsea midfield – made more tackles in Qatar than Fernandez (22), who was fifth for completed passes into the 18-yard box, and illustrated his ability to score goals from midfield (something Chelsea have sorely lacked) with his sublime stepover and curled finish against Mexico.
It feels as though Fernandez would be a good fit for modern Premier League football, unlike Jorginho, the man he looks set to replace.
Jorginho is an excellent footballer, and after a ropey start under Maurizio Sarri, has proven himself to be more than capable at the base of the Chelsea midfield. But his best performances for the Blues in the four years he’s been at the club have come in European competition. He was outstanding under Thomas Tuchel in the Champions League winning run in 2021, and for Italy in the European Championships soon after.
But the man who finished third in the Ballon d’Or after those standout displays has never been at ease in the Premier League, despite looking as though he is most of the time, owing to a style of football in which his seeming control over a game belies a state of play where bedlam could ensue at any moment. In transition, arguably the greatest key to Premier League success in the modern era, Jorginho is a liability.
It feels a bit unfair that a physical attribute he has no control over could be so costly, but quite simply, Jorginho is too slow to have ever made it into the top echelons of Premier League midfielders.
And while his patient, metronomic style has been ideal for Chelsea in the Champions League, when absorbing pressure, coping with the press and hitting teams on the break has been the plan of action, when Chelsea push high and attempt to break opposition defences down as is so frequently the case in the Premier League, Jorginho offers little to protect his own backline when there’s space afforded through their own desire to push forward.
Fernandez has an everywhere-ness more similar to that of Kante (though not to the same level), crucially, more speed than Jorginho, provides more of a goal threat, and, compellingly, has a sense of unpredictability to his game that Jorginho doesn’t provide.
Like Jude Bellingham, the Argentinean is an exciting prospect as they can’t be pigeonholed like Jorginho and so many midfielders in recent times. They don’t fit into your tiny little boxes. Unnerving, isn’t it?
Fernandez could buzz around the Chelsea midfield for the next decade, rather than sit at the base of it, as Jorginho has done with aplomb 99 per cent of the time. But aplomb is so 2021. This is an era in which midfield chaos is a more attractive prospect, and in the most chaotic league in world football, Chelsea could sign one of the great potential proponents of that state of disorder. If nothing else, it will be more exciting.
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