Player of Argentina Enzo Fernández reacts during the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Final match between Argentina and France at Lusail Stadium on December 18, 2022 in Lusail, Qatar.

Enzo Fernandez’s World Cup final masterclass proved he’s the real deal

Enzo Fernandez could be set to become the most expensive player in Premier League history, with Chelsea reportedly about to pay the Argentinian’s £105million Benfica release clause in full. 

That’s some feat for a player that was barely known outside of South America six months ago.

Those that had watched the midfielder for River Plate would’ve told you that he was one of the top prospects outside of European football, destined for the very top.

Any scouting team worth their salt would have been well aware of Fernandez’s potential. It begs the question as to why one of the Premier League giants – Liverpool, in particular, are crying out for a combative, dynamic midfielder – didn’t move for him in the summer.

In the end, he cost Benfica just €18million.

The player himself was moving to a quality team with the promise of Champions League football and the promise of competing for silverware.

The Portuguese Primeira Liga has proven that first step towards the elite for South American talent throughout the 21st century, – James Rodriguez, Angel Di Maria, Falcao, Darwin Nunez, Nicolas Otamendi and Ederson are just a few of the names that have trodden that path.

Benfica were getting a youngster who would improve their first team – and, if all went to plan – would eventually make a healthy profit.

Big-money clubs like Chelsea, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Barcelona would all surely have kept tags on how Fernandez progressed in the Portuguese capital and sanctioned significant outlay if he did indeed prove the real deal in the Portuguese capital.

Such is Fernandez’s astonishing rise, that process has been hyper-accelerated. The 22-year-old didn’t need a season or two to find his feet. He’s needed just half of the 2022-23 campaign to underline his world-class credentials.

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Fernandez was a key pillar as Roger Schmidt’s side enjoyed a stellar first half of the season. He shone in the Champions League as Benfica drew home and away to PSG and topped their group ahead of the Ligue 1 champions.

From day one he showed the authority to make his stamp on games, completing more passes than any player in Europe’s major leagues as Benfica went unbeaten and established a healthy lead at the top of the Primeira Liga table.

He only made his Argentina debut in September but by the end of the World Cup group stage, he’d made himself indispensable to Lionel Scaloni’s side.

It was his inclusion that turned around their fortunes following the opening defeat to Saudi Arabia. With his stunning strike against Mexico, he became the youngest Argentinian to score at a World Cup since Lionel Messi in 2006. In the following game, he became the youngest Argentinian to start a World Cup game since Messi.

Fernandez never looked back from there, going on to play every minute of the knockout stages.

It was in the final when the midfielder truly staked his claim as one of the finest talents of his generation.

Coming up against the holders and favourites, not least the same side that steamrollered Argentina to knock them out four years ago, Fernandez was nothing short of outstanding against France that night at the Lusail Stadium in Doha.

It wouldn’t at all have been ridiculous for Fernandez to receive the man of the match award, which is some going on a night in which Messi scored twice and Kylian Mbappe came alive with a hat-trick late on.

The youngest player on either teamsheet, Fernandez had the most touches of any player on the pitch, completed the most passes and won the most tackles – 10, the most of any player in a World Cup final since 2006.

He was fundamental in Argentina exerting complete control for over 70 minutes, bossing the midfield battle and completely shutting Mbappe out.

When France eventually punched back late on, Fernandez didn’t cower. He stepped up and played a key pass in the build-up to Messi’s second – and Argentina’s third – late in injury time.

For any young player moving to the Premier League for a record fee, it’s only natural to ask whether the pressure of living up to the hype would be an impediment.

But that’s nothing compared to the pressure of starting in a World Cup final for Argentina. Not least one alongside his idol, who had his last chance to lift the most coveted prize of all.

“How are we going to convince you if we are disastrous? How are we going to convince you if in our lives we have never had 1% of the pressure that you have on your shoulders?” a 16-year-old Fernandez wrote on Facebook about Messi when the captain attempted to step away from international football in 2016.

“That you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and know that a crowd of more than 40 million people not only want you to do things perfectly, but it’s also been ridiculously imposed that they can demand them from you.

“How are we going to convince you if we could not understand that you are a human being, a person with unmatched talent, the best player on the planet but a person anyway.

“How are we going to convince you if we don’t stop for a second to realize that you are not responsible for the anger that losing brings us, which often has more to do with our own frustrations that arise.

“Let’s look in the mirror and ask ourselves, what if we demand of ourselves 1% of what we demand of this boy that we don’t even really know?”

Fernandez is a rare and special talent. Just watch how he stepped up on the biggest stage of all.

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