BLACK FRIDAY - 50% OFF EVERYTHING!

'Crazy and thrilling'

In less than one season, Enzo Fernández has swapped South America for Europe, made his Argentina debut, joined Chelsea from Benfica for an eye-watering sum… oh, and lifted the World Cup. He sits down with Graham Hunter to catch his breath

PHOTOGRAPHY Dan Mullan

Interview
You will almost certainly never have noticed it, but Enzo Fernández gets nervous. Chelsea’s beautifully talented 22-year-old Argentinian controls it and uses it to his benefit, but prior to every single match it’s there, gnawing at his stomach, reminding him that all eyes are on him, that he is being relied upon – that it’s showtime. So, just for a moment, put yourself in his place. It’s a World Cup quarter-final and you have a penalty to win it; to progress Leo Messi’s sacred quest for this trophy. You miss. Brilliant though you are, despite the fact that every football you’ve ever touched has become a dear friend, you pull the 11-metre effort wide of goal. Most of the Lusail Stadium in Qatar groans. The Netherlands celebrate being let off the hook again.

Just think of the nerves – perhaps even the fear – until your next team-mate, Lautaro Martínez, steps up to right your wrong. He sticks the ball past Dutch keeper Andries Noppert to end a bad-tempered ding-dong match and put the hungry Argentinian nation just a little closer to what they’ve been baying for. 

There is no way that when Enzo Fernández made his competitive debut for his national team, on 23 September last year, he could possibly have imagined that, in what feels like the blink of an eye, he would: 

– Lose to Saudi Arabia in Argentina's World Cup opener. 

– Score against Mexico.

– Give away an own goal in the last-16 match against Australia.

– Miss that quarter-final penalty.

– Help create Los Albiceleste’s third goal in a frantic final.

– See Messi duly lift the hallowed trophy.

– Be named young player of the World Cup. 

– Witness Buenos Aires come to a frenzied standstill while over five million people celebrated uninhibitedly.

– Leave Benfica after only playing 29 times for them.

– Join Chelsea for a British-record £107m. 

– Immediately, help knock Borussia Dortmund out of the Champions League.

Perhaps the most extraordinary 105 days in the history of any footballer? 

Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?
Enzo with his new Chelsea team-mates against Dortmund

When we meet at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Fernández is very calm, noticeably articulate, patient in engaging with a longish interview and immediately interesting. We begin with the obvious. 

Leo Messi had to wait until he was 35 years, five months and 24 days old – failing at four attempts in Germany, South Africa, Brazil and Russia – before winning the World Cup. Fernández became world champion at 21. What, in retrospect, does he remember of the moment of achievement? 

“So many years of sacrifice and now I was part of this,” he says slowly. “Truly crazy and thrilling for me. It was a great World Cup for Argentinians because we had started off by losing and facing adversity – but we showed personality and it was crazy to beat the previous world champions. That also really meant a lot to us. The squad, as a whole, had gone through a tough period so everybody deserved it. 

“That night against France, my family and friends were in the stands. To see them crying also meant so much to me. I felt happy for all the sacrifices we had made with the lads, because being locked up for almost a month, spending all our time together, not being in touch with our families… well, it’s a World Cup. You enjoy it but in a different way. It was a beautiful accomplishment to have won it, something that will always remain in my heart.”

The opportunity to sit and talk to a footballer of vision, achievement – somebody who can make magic happen – is an opportunity to try and let him explain what makes him tick. Including those butterfly-in-the-stomach nerves.

“The day before a match I always feel anxious,” admits Fernández. “But then in the evening, maybe I feel better after dinner. I also try to rest well, not to think so much about the match; maybe watch a film, watch a series, do other things that might take my mind elsewhere, instead of the match. 

“Then the next day when I get up, I do focus on the game: thinking about key things little by little and visualising the plays. I like that part of the process a lot. But the excitement, the anxiety, both the day before and the day of the match… they are always there. 

“Then there’s the emotions when you get to the stadium, when you want to do things well. I always try to think about my family. I have to do things well for them and always show everything I can do when I’m out on the pitch.”

Every successful sportsman, or woman, obviously owes something to their family: the athletic genes, innate ambition, emotional and financial support in the hungry years. A long list. But, speaking whimsically, does Fernández owe his father just a little bit more? There’s a concept called nominative determinism: the idea that if your name is Jim Baker then bread and cakes might become your profession; Sarah Forrest might work as a park ranger. You get the idea. 

Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?

For those who don’t remember or haven't heard of him, the aquiline Uruguayan would drift past players as if he were on roller skates. He was a fountain of flicks, one-twos and brilliant first touches; his mazy creative imagination thrilled fans of his national team, River Plate, Marseille and Cagliari, among others.  

Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when televised football was far from all pervasive, simply glimpsing the imperious attacking midfielder was enough to hold football-lovers in a trance of admiration. Zinédine Zidane adored him, made a point of swapping shirts with him and named one of his sons after, arguably, this greatest Uruguayan player of all-time. Raúl Fernández followed suit. 

Chelsea’s version of Enzo has been thrilled to share something with the great Uruguayan. Eventually, his talents even made them friends while winning trophies for the same legendary Buenos Aires club. “As soon as I was able to, I began to watch videos of Enzo Francescoli on YouTube, and it quickly became obvious that he had demonstrated his great skills on a global level. Eventually I was lucky enough to meet him because he was sporting director at River Plate, so I ended up sharing many fantastic moments with Enzo. He’s a great person who’s always helped me, always advised me. So, the fact that my name is linked to Enzo Francescoli is very exciting both for me and for my dad, who’s still a huge fan of River and of Francescoli too.”

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.  

Insight
Dear Leo...
As a 15-year-old, Enzo Fernández wrote Lionel Messi a letter begging him not to retire from international football. Six years later, they lifted the World Cup together. We'll let the boy with stars in his eyes pick up the story

“I wrote the letter when I was a kid. I always watched a lot of football – I watched the national team and at that time Leo was being criticised a lot by the press, because he hadn’t been able to achieve some goals with the national team. The press really destroyed him; they spoke very badly about him, that he should leave the national team. 

“Then he announced that he was going to retire from international football and, in my letter, I tried with my own words and with a little help from a writer… I wanted to explain or describe what I felt at that moment. When I wrote the letter, I was very young and was still at home. I felt like writing this and after so many years it came to light. 

“I never thought it was going to come out. Anyway, it was very exciting to have won the World Cup with him, almost at the end of his career, because he won’t be playing for much longer. I don’t know how many years, but I hope he plays in the next World Cup; it’s the desire of every Argentinian, and I think his too. 

“So, God willing, being able to play another World Cup with him would be a dream. But having won this one was very, very important for me. He never talked to me about that letter, never. But I’ve always had a good relationship with him and whenever he had the opportunity to talk about me to the press, he has always spoken wonders about me. 

“I am always grateful for the words he always has for me, and how he has treated me. He is an excellent person beyond what we already know about him on the pitch.”

Just think of the nerves – perhaps even the fear – until your next team-mate, Lautaro Martínez, steps up to right your wrong. He sticks the ball past Dutch keeper Andries Noppert to end a bad-tempered ding-dong match and put the hungry Argentinian nation just a little closer to what they’ve been baying for. 

There is no way that when Enzo Fernández made his competitive debut for his national team, on 23 September last year, he could possibly have imagined that, in what feels like the blink of an eye, he would: 

– Lose to Saudi Arabia in Argentina's World Cup opener. 

– Score against Mexico.

– Give away an own goal in the last-16 match against Australia.

– Miss that quarter-final penalty.

– Help create Los Albiceleste’s third goal in a frantic final.

– See Messi duly lift the hallowed trophy.

– Be named young player of the World Cup. 

– Witness Buenos Aires come to a frenzied standstill while over five million people celebrated uninhibitedly.

– Leave Benfica after only playing 29 times for them.

– Join Chelsea for a British-record £107m. 

– Immediately, help knock Borussia Dortmund out of the Champions League.

Perhaps the most extraordinary 105 days in the history of any footballer? 

Read the full story
Sign up now to get access to this and every premium feature on Champions Journal. You will also get access to member-only competitions and offers. And you get all of that completely free!
Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?
Enzo with his new Chelsea team-mates against Dortmund

When we meet at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Fernández is very calm, noticeably articulate, patient in engaging with a longish interview and immediately interesting. We begin with the obvious. 

Leo Messi had to wait until he was 35 years, five months and 24 days old – failing at four attempts in Germany, South Africa, Brazil and Russia – before winning the World Cup. Fernández became world champion at 21. What, in retrospect, does he remember of the moment of achievement? 

“So many years of sacrifice and now I was part of this,” he says slowly. “Truly crazy and thrilling for me. It was a great World Cup for Argentinians because we had started off by losing and facing adversity – but we showed personality and it was crazy to beat the previous world champions. That also really meant a lot to us. The squad, as a whole, had gone through a tough period so everybody deserved it. 

“That night against France, my family and friends were in the stands. To see them crying also meant so much to me. I felt happy for all the sacrifices we had made with the lads, because being locked up for almost a month, spending all our time together, not being in touch with our families… well, it’s a World Cup. You enjoy it but in a different way. It was a beautiful accomplishment to have won it, something that will always remain in my heart.”

The opportunity to sit and talk to a footballer of vision, achievement – somebody who can make magic happen – is an opportunity to try and let him explain what makes him tick. Including those butterfly-in-the-stomach nerves.

“The day before a match I always feel anxious,” admits Fernández. “But then in the evening, maybe I feel better after dinner. I also try to rest well, not to think so much about the match; maybe watch a film, watch a series, do other things that might take my mind elsewhere, instead of the match. 

“Then the next day when I get up, I do focus on the game: thinking about key things little by little and visualising the plays. I like that part of the process a lot. But the excitement, the anxiety, both the day before and the day of the match… they are always there. 

“Then there’s the emotions when you get to the stadium, when you want to do things well. I always try to think about my family. I have to do things well for them and always show everything I can do when I’m out on the pitch.”

Every successful sportsman, or woman, obviously owes something to their family: the athletic genes, innate ambition, emotional and financial support in the hungry years. A long list. But, speaking whimsically, does Fernández owe his father just a little bit more? There’s a concept called nominative determinism: the idea that if your name is Jim Baker then bread and cakes might become your profession; Sarah Forrest might work as a park ranger. You get the idea. 

Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?

For those who don’t remember or haven't heard of him, the aquiline Uruguayan would drift past players as if he were on roller skates. He was a fountain of flicks, one-twos and brilliant first touches; his mazy creative imagination thrilled fans of his national team, River Plate, Marseille and Cagliari, among others.  

Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when televised football was far from all pervasive, simply glimpsing the imperious attacking midfielder was enough to hold football-lovers in a trance of admiration. Zinédine Zidane adored him, made a point of swapping shirts with him and named one of his sons after, arguably, this greatest Uruguayan player of all-time. Raúl Fernández followed suit. 

Chelsea’s version of Enzo has been thrilled to share something with the great Uruguayan. Eventually, his talents even made them friends while winning trophies for the same legendary Buenos Aires club. “As soon as I was able to, I began to watch videos of Enzo Francescoli on YouTube, and it quickly became obvious that he had demonstrated his great skills on a global level. Eventually I was lucky enough to meet him because he was sporting director at River Plate, so I ended up sharing many fantastic moments with Enzo. He’s a great person who’s always helped me, always advised me. So, the fact that my name is linked to Enzo Francescoli is very exciting both for me and for my dad, who’s still a huge fan of River and of Francescoli too.”

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.  

Insight
Dear Leo...
As a 15-year-old, Enzo Fernández wrote Lionel Messi a letter begging him not to retire from international football. Six years later, they lifted the World Cup together. We'll let the boy with stars in his eyes pick up the story

“I wrote the letter when I was a kid. I always watched a lot of football – I watched the national team and at that time Leo was being criticised a lot by the press, because he hadn’t been able to achieve some goals with the national team. The press really destroyed him; they spoke very badly about him, that he should leave the national team. 

“Then he announced that he was going to retire from international football and, in my letter, I tried with my own words and with a little help from a writer… I wanted to explain or describe what I felt at that moment. When I wrote the letter, I was very young and was still at home. I felt like writing this and after so many years it came to light. 

“I never thought it was going to come out. Anyway, it was very exciting to have won the World Cup with him, almost at the end of his career, because he won’t be playing for much longer. I don’t know how many years, but I hope he plays in the next World Cup; it’s the desire of every Argentinian, and I think his too. 

“So, God willing, being able to play another World Cup with him would be a dream. But having won this one was very, very important for me. He never talked to me about that letter, never. But I’ve always had a good relationship with him and whenever he had the opportunity to talk about me to the press, he has always spoken wonders about me. 

“I am always grateful for the words he always has for me, and how he has treated me. He is an excellent person beyond what we already know about him on the pitch.”

Just think of the nerves – perhaps even the fear – until your next team-mate, Lautaro Martínez, steps up to right your wrong. He sticks the ball past Dutch keeper Andries Noppert to end a bad-tempered ding-dong match and put the hungry Argentinian nation just a little closer to what they’ve been baying for. 

There is no way that when Enzo Fernández made his competitive debut for his national team, on 23 September last year, he could possibly have imagined that, in what feels like the blink of an eye, he would: 

– Lose to Saudi Arabia in Argentina's World Cup opener. 

– Score against Mexico.

– Give away an own goal in the last-16 match against Australia.

– Miss that quarter-final penalty.

– Help create Los Albiceleste’s third goal in a frantic final.

– See Messi duly lift the hallowed trophy.

– Be named young player of the World Cup. 

– Witness Buenos Aires come to a frenzied standstill while over five million people celebrated uninhibitedly.

– Leave Benfica after only playing 29 times for them.

– Join Chelsea for a British-record £107m. 

– Immediately, help knock Borussia Dortmund out of the Champions League.

Perhaps the most extraordinary 105 days in the history of any footballer? 

Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?
Enzo with his new Chelsea team-mates against Dortmund

When we meet at Chelsea’s Cobham training ground, Fernández is very calm, noticeably articulate, patient in engaging with a longish interview and immediately interesting. We begin with the obvious. 

Leo Messi had to wait until he was 35 years, five months and 24 days old – failing at four attempts in Germany, South Africa, Brazil and Russia – before winning the World Cup. Fernández became world champion at 21. What, in retrospect, does he remember of the moment of achievement? 

“So many years of sacrifice and now I was part of this,” he says slowly. “Truly crazy and thrilling for me. It was a great World Cup for Argentinians because we had started off by losing and facing adversity – but we showed personality and it was crazy to beat the previous world champions. That also really meant a lot to us. The squad, as a whole, had gone through a tough period so everybody deserved it. 

“That night against France, my family and friends were in the stands. To see them crying also meant so much to me. I felt happy for all the sacrifices we had made with the lads, because being locked up for almost a month, spending all our time together, not being in touch with our families… well, it’s a World Cup. You enjoy it but in a different way. It was a beautiful accomplishment to have won it, something that will always remain in my heart.”

The opportunity to sit and talk to a footballer of vision, achievement – somebody who can make magic happen – is an opportunity to try and let him explain what makes him tick. Including those butterfly-in-the-stomach nerves.

“The day before a match I always feel anxious,” admits Fernández. “But then in the evening, maybe I feel better after dinner. I also try to rest well, not to think so much about the match; maybe watch a film, watch a series, do other things that might take my mind elsewhere, instead of the match. 

“Then the next day when I get up, I do focus on the game: thinking about key things little by little and visualising the plays. I like that part of the process a lot. But the excitement, the anxiety, both the day before and the day of the match… they are always there. 

“Then there’s the emotions when you get to the stadium, when you want to do things well. I always try to think about my family. I have to do things well for them and always show everything I can do when I’m out on the pitch.”

Every successful sportsman, or woman, obviously owes something to their family: the athletic genes, innate ambition, emotional and financial support in the hungry years. A long list. But, speaking whimsically, does Fernández owe his father just a little bit more? There’s a concept called nominative determinism: the idea that if your name is Jim Baker then bread and cakes might become your profession; Sarah Forrest might work as a park ranger. You get the idea. 

Even if it’s stretching it a little bit, might Raúl Fernández have gifted his son something when, back in January 2001, he chose to name him Enzo specifically in honour of the legendary and much-adored Enzo Francescoli?

For those who don’t remember or haven't heard of him, the aquiline Uruguayan would drift past players as if he were on roller skates. He was a fountain of flicks, one-twos and brilliant first touches; his mazy creative imagination thrilled fans of his national team, River Plate, Marseille and Cagliari, among others.  

Even in the 1980s and 1990s, when televised football was far from all pervasive, simply glimpsing the imperious attacking midfielder was enough to hold football-lovers in a trance of admiration. Zinédine Zidane adored him, made a point of swapping shirts with him and named one of his sons after, arguably, this greatest Uruguayan player of all-time. Raúl Fernández followed suit. 

Chelsea’s version of Enzo has been thrilled to share something with the great Uruguayan. Eventually, his talents even made them friends while winning trophies for the same legendary Buenos Aires club. “As soon as I was able to, I began to watch videos of Enzo Francescoli on YouTube, and it quickly became obvious that he had demonstrated his great skills on a global level. Eventually I was lucky enough to meet him because he was sporting director at River Plate, so I ended up sharing many fantastic moments with Enzo. He’s a great person who’s always helped me, always advised me. So, the fact that my name is linked to Enzo Francescoli is very exciting both for me and for my dad, who’s still a huge fan of River and of Francescoli too.”

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.  

Insight
Dear Leo...
As a 15-year-old, Enzo Fernández wrote Lionel Messi a letter begging him not to retire from international football. Six years later, they lifted the World Cup together. We'll let the boy with stars in his eyes pick up the story

“I wrote the letter when I was a kid. I always watched a lot of football – I watched the national team and at that time Leo was being criticised a lot by the press, because he hadn’t been able to achieve some goals with the national team. The press really destroyed him; they spoke very badly about him, that he should leave the national team. 

“Then he announced that he was going to retire from international football and, in my letter, I tried with my own words and with a little help from a writer… I wanted to explain or describe what I felt at that moment. When I wrote the letter, I was very young and was still at home. I felt like writing this and after so many years it came to light. 

“I never thought it was going to come out. Anyway, it was very exciting to have won the World Cup with him, almost at the end of his career, because he won’t be playing for much longer. I don’t know how many years, but I hope he plays in the next World Cup; it’s the desire of every Argentinian, and I think his too. 

“So, God willing, being able to play another World Cup with him would be a dream. But having won this one was very, very important for me. He never talked to me about that letter, never. But I’ve always had a good relationship with him and whenever he had the opportunity to talk about me to the press, he has always spoken wonders about me. 

“I am always grateful for the words he always has for me, and how he has treated me. He is an excellent person beyond what we already know about him on the pitch.”

To access this article, as well as all CJ+ content and competitions, you will need a subscription to Champions Journal.
Already a subscriber? Sign in
close
Special Offers
christmas offer
Christmas CHEER
Up to 40% off
Start shopping
50% off
game night flash sale!!!
Don't miss out
00
Hours
:
00
minutes
:
00
Seconds
Valid on selected products only. subscriptions not included
close