COMMENT: Is Enzo Fernandez a €120m player? No. Could he be? Oh yeah, definitely. Though, of course, nothing in football is guaranteed...
Benfica are fuming. River Plate are bouncing. And Chelsea have their man - all €120m of him. Enzo Fernandez is the UK's richest ever transfer. Though he arrives at Stamford Bridge with little certainty, but a lot of potential.
The best No5 in the world? No. The best young player in the world? No. But he could be. He could be both. And given a career that at 22 years of age has already brought him a World Cup and an Argentine Primera title, Fernandez is one you judge at your peril.
For those in the know, they've been aware of Fernandez since his time under Hernan Crespo at Defensa y Justicia. A technical player, with a gifted physique and an on-field mentality that drives all those around him. In Argentina, they describe Fernandez as 'eating' the opposition. Combative. Ruthless. Whether it was against Boca Juniors, Sporting CP or France, the style and approach was always the same.
Tribalfootball.com columnist Dario Felman, the former Boca Juniors star, tipped us off about Fernandez back in March '22. Felman declared the then River Plate youngster as one with the "technical ability and competitive spirit" that European giants were seeking. And while Felman's connections to LaLiga run deep, he was convinced the Premier League would eventually become Fernandez's home.
Months later Atletico Madrid's former Argentine coach Jorge D'Alessandro would be offering Fernandez to Real Madrid and Barcelona - and for a fraction of the price Chelsea shelled out.
“A terrible management error by Real Madrid and Barcelona," he declared this week. "Today he is the best in the world in his position, I offered him when he cost 10 million euros to Ramón Planes (former Barça technical secretary) and the Real Madrid staff. Today they search and they will not find anything like him. Other roles, but not a chief engineer..."
And then there was the revelation of Jorge Mendes urging River not to throw their young star away. The agent, even if River weren't to involve him in sale talks, recommended they include a sell-on percentage in the final deal "because Benfica will eventually shift him for €100m". That little piece of advice earned Los Millonarios a massive €30m this week. Money, Jorge Brito the president says, that will bankroll a new stand, a mini-stadium and an academy.
As we say, those in the know. Those who are paid to get these things right. They've known about Fernandez for years. His ability. His character. His potential. They saw it. They recognised it. And in the end, their opinion has been proved correct.
Which is why Chelsea fans should be bullish about Fernandez's arrival. Every obstacle put in front of him, he's overcome. From River's reserves to Marcelo Gallardo's first team. To Benfica. To Argentina's World Cup squad - which came only after a handful caps with the U18s. Fernandez has conquered every level he's stepped up to. Yes, from the Primeira Liga of Portugal to the Premier League is another huge jump (just ask Darwin Nunez and Liverpool), but given his past, nothing says he won't be up to the challenge.
And it'll be a challenge he'll throw everything into. After all, this is a player who at 11 years of age nagged his coaches on football tours to hold dawn training sessions in below zero temperatures. One whom at 14 and losing the confidence of his junior trainers, took it upon himself to start working with a nutritionist to get his body match ready. That drive. That sheer will. It's always been in Fernandez. This one was bred differently.
It's that character that Fernandez will bring to Chelsea. He won't need to be mothballed or mollycoddled. He's a self-starter. But what he will need is a manager and staff capable of bringing out his very best.
Fernandez is an acid test for Graham Potter and his team. A nation will be watching. A football nation - the World Cup winners. Potter has in his hands a potential world-beater. And all of Argentina will be scrutinising how the former Brighton and Ostersunds coach handles Chelsea's €120m asset.
Harsh? Maybe. But it must be said, this is new ground for Potter and his team. He's never worked with a player of Fernandez's potential. And certainly not with one that has the weight of a nation, perhaps even a continent, to carry. The world expects Fernandez to fulfil his potential in a Chelsea shirt. Defensa, River and Benfica were stepping stones to this moment. Where it was Hernan Crespo, Gallardo and Ruben Amorim, it's now Potter. It's now in the Englishman's hands as to how this €120m project pans out.
Today, Fernandez is not the player to justify Chelsea paying that buyout clause. But tomorrow? With his potential? He definitely could be. But so much will depend on Potter and co getting this right...