CHELSEA smashed the British transfer record with a stunning £106million deal for Argentina World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez.
The Blues completed the blockbuster transfer in the early hours of Wednesday morning after a crazy day of negotiations on deadline day.
It completes a remarkable month for Fernandez – who not only tasted success with his country in Qatar, but was also handed the FIFA award for best young player at the tournament.
Fernandez, 22, only made his debut in 2019 with Argentine giants River Plate.
It was ex-Chelsea star Hernan Crespo who steered his career in the right direction, during a season-long loan at Defensa y Justicia.
But it was under the stewardship of the enigmatic coach Marcelo Gallardo who elevated him to even bigger heights, earning him a blockbuster move to Portugal only this year.
Fernandez grew up in Buenos Aires – where the locals live and breath football.
Incredibly, he joined River aged just five after discovering the game at local side Club La Recova.
Some 13 years later, after progressing through the ranks, Gallardo promoted him to the first team, where he made his debut in a 3-0 loss to L.D.U. Quito in the Copa Libertadores.
The club and Gallardo thought it was important for his development that he needed to be a starter elsewhere.
For the 2020-21 season, he was loaned out to Defensa y Justicia, where he would flourish under ex-Blues star Crespo.
Recognising Fernandez’s abilities – a possession player, who offers boundless energy and tactical intelligence – Crespo played the talent as a lone defensive midfielder.
He would go on to become a key player for Defensa y Justicia, who enjoyed a fantastic season.
They won the Copa Sudamericana and Recopa Sudamericana consecutively, with Fernandez an important cog in that team’s success.
He returned to River full of confidence.
The following season, on the insistence of Gallardo, Fernandez was brought back into the first team fold.
He immediately became a starter – scoring his first goal for the club and providing an assist in the 2-0 win over Velez Sarsfield.
It was an incredible start to the season for Fernandez, who managed eight goals and provided six assists in 19 games.
Playing further forward, his eye for a pass and a new found ability to get into the box and prove to be a threat was reaping its rewards for both club and player.
For many that season, he was the best footballer in Argentina – and there was a massive buzz about his potential.
Europe’s top clubs circled, but it was a Portuguese giant who moved first.
Lisbon giants Benfica jumped ahead of the queue by paying £12million for the playmaker last summer.
Following River’s exit from the Copa Libertadores in July, Fernandez waved farewell to his team-mates and set off on a new adventure in Portugal.
Such was the belief in him – Benfica gave him their most prestigious squad number, 13.
It was famously worn by legend Eusebio during the 1960s, and isn’t handed out to anyone.
Fernandez instantly paid back his fee and the favour.
On his debut against Midtjylland in a Champions League qualifier, he scored a sumptuous half-volley from outside the box.
He followed that up with a goal on his Primeira Liga debut in a 4–0 home win over Arouca. A star was born.
Fernandez has been ever-present in a Benfica side that’s unbeaten in 28 games across all competitions this season.
They even got the better of PSG and his Argentina team-mate Lionel Messi, finishing top of their Champions League group.
Before the break for the World Cup, Fernandez was crowned Primeira Liga’s Midfielder of the Month for the third consecutive month.
It was form that set him up nicely for the greatest show on earth.
Remarkably, Fernandez only made his debut for Argentina in September, fulfilling a dream to play alongside his idol Messi.
“To play with Leo brings me enormous joy,” Fernandez revealed after the game.
“It’s a dream come true.”
Messi would return the sentiment just three months later – calling Fernandez “a spectacular kid”, as the pair led Argentina’s charge to World Cup glory.
But it wasn’t until the final group game where Fernandez showed his country what they were missing – curling a shot into the top corner of Guillermo Ochoa’s net to seal a 2-0 victory over Mexico, in which he appeared as a sub.
It became impossible for boss Lionel Scaloni to drop him after that, showing a tenacity that was missing from Argentina’s midfield in the first game against Saudi Arabia.
Only two players across the World Cup (Mateo Kovacic and Achraf Hakimi) recorded more successful tackles than his 22.
While his crisp and incisive passing rate was 88 per cent during the tournament.
Fernandez was at his best in the final – providing a swashbuckling box-to-box display.
It was fitting that before he got his hands on the World Cup, he was given the FIFA Young Player trophy.
The Premier League has seemingly gained another gem from South American, ready to elevate his club to greater success – just like he did for his country.