While Enzo the younger is talking, he occasionally leans forward to emphasise a point. It’s a low-voiced, calm delivery, neither buoyed by spurts of energy nor showing any increase in speed of answers to get to the end of the interview. But, especially for a 22-year-old, strong personal self-assurance is evident. We are dealing with a budding star who not only knows how his talented feet need to work, but is also shrewd enough to have learned to understand his mind, to work things through. His brain is firmly in charge of both his technical talents and his career development.
Anyone who follows Chelsea, as Fernández’s career begins to take off, will be watching a footballer who will come to represent both the cerebral control of his team’s attacking movement and the baton-wielding conductor who sets their match tempo. As the Blues’ back line looks for an out ball, when under pressure, more often than not it will be Fernández showing for it. A solutions man.
If Chelsea need to erupt into a quick transition counterattack it will increasingly be him who links fractured possession with the higher quality moments when the ball is channelled to the right guy, in the right place at the right time. More and more – count on it – this Argentinian who seems to have more time on the ball than the situation logically permits, who has the talent to bulge opposition nets from distance, should graduate from being a connoisseur’s predilection to being fans’ player of the season. Regularly.
However, we are still taking about someone who left a vastly different continent only last summer, who fleetingly tried to find his feet in Europe via six months in Lisbon, and who has suddenly been elevated to global superstardom. You might imagine that Fernández should have had some qualms about another move – another change of language, culture and climate. Never mind the butterflies that accompany the ephemeral need to perform; this was a drastic rerouting of a life barely established after joining Benfica a few months earlier.
Even before Benfica he had gained only limited first-team experience back in Argentina. He made 39 top-flight appearances in Argentina for River Plate, scoring nine times. Before that was a fruitful loan spell at Defensa y Justicia – a learning experience that takes us off on a tangent featuring another Argentinian who has worn Chelsea blue. Namely Hernán Crespo, scorer of 20 league goals in 49 appearances for Chelsea, who helped José Mourinho’s team win the 2005/06 Premier League title.
Crespo took Fernández on loan during his time coaching Defensa y Justicia – a period of just 32 matches between September 2020 and May 2021, when, together, they won the Copa Sudamericana. Fernández says Crespo’s coaching impact was significant.
“I moved on loan from River, after not getting time in the first team and playing in the second team for a long while. So joining Defensa y Justicia was very good for my mind, to keep growing, to keep maturing and to gain experience. Before playing there I obviously already knew what Hernán was like as a player – he had proved it over the years. But as a person, equally, he’s an absolutely top guy: always trying to help, always giving advice.
“Hernán always has stories to tell and whenever I needed him, he was always there for me. He was a coach who taught me a lot of important things on the pitch while we were winning the Copa Sudamericana. He’s super, super football-gifted; he knows a lot.”
The learning curve now continues in west London. Listening to Fernández, watching him – catching the quiet, firm authority in his answers – leaves you clear that, in a career decision, neither nerves nor timidity were going to stay his hand. “One of the factors in choosing to join Chelsea was that I liked the long-term project the club is creating,” he says. “I’d also always dreamed about playing in the Premier League. Chelsea had shown their interest in me since even before the World Cup. The fact that they had been targeting me, specifically setting their sights on me, was crucial as far as I was concerned. And so I came to a big club, one that has always fought to lift trophies, and one that has won two Champions Leagues in a very short period of time.
“Now that I’m here, I’ve realised how big this club really is. All of these were important factors when making my decision, apart from the fact that we are in a city as beautiful as London. I thought it all through with my family. If it’s God’s will, things will turn out fine and I’ll strive to win everything.”
Currently, for this interesting, talented, impressive young man, it’s all about connecting. Connecting cleanly with the ball while he sprays passes across England’s most famous pitches, but also connecting with his fellow players and Chelsea’s fans – not to mention a new coach. Also, after months that offered nothing but a whirlwind of activity, reconnecting with a long-term project.
“Adapting always takes time,” he says. “I was among about ten new players that came in over recent months. With different languages, it’s more difficult to connect with team-mates at the beginning. But as time goes by, we start getting to know each other better and it will grow. The new players and I are all striving to adapt as best as possible. The fans are really important – they supported us throughout it all.
“We have many good players; all our strikers are top class. But it’s true that Kai Havertz, João Félix and I quickly built up a slightly deeper connection because we also have that off the pitch too. That’s very important. Moreover, I’ve adapted to London quite well. It’s a very different city from Lisbon or Buenos Aires, we all knew that already. It’s very cold, but I’m adjusting as well as possible with my family and I’ll be fine. London is very beautiful and I’m delighted.”
Precisely, it’s fair to assume, how Chelsea and their fans are going to feel about having this engaging, bright, world-conquering character playing for them. Delighted. Sit back and enjoy the Enzo show, everyone.