Enzo Fernandez to Chelsea and why this is a British transfer record like no other
As Enzo Fernandez completed his €121m (£106m, $131m) move to Chelsea from Benfica on deadline day, Jack Grealish handed over the baton.
At 22, Fernandez is at the center of a record-breaking British transfer, making him the Premier League’s most expensive player and thrusting him into a spotlight that some have handled better than others.
“That record amount was a very heavy burden,” Andy Cole explained when asked about his £7million move to Manchester United from Newcastle United in 1995. “It bothered me. A lot.”
The numbers have gone up a lot since those days, so much so that we are now in the age of nine-figure transfers, with Grealish being the first player to move to a British club for £100m when he joined Manchester City from Aston Villa in the summer of 2021.
Grealish, by his own admission, found it ‘annoying’ that the fee ended up being a constant topic of discussion following his performances for City. “The price on my head, as soon as you don’t get them (goals and assists) people start talking and doubting you,” he said.
Alan Shearer, on the other hand, ‘absolutely loved’ being the most expensive footballer to sign for a British club and told The Athletic his £15million move to Newcastle United from Blackburn Rovers in 1996 made him feel “10 feet tall”.
Shearer’s name features twice on what is a curious list when you scan through the record transfer fees paid by British clubs over the past few decades – Chris Sutton one year, Dennis Bergkamp the next.
The Athletic have previously written about the pressures that come with a record transfer.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect, given that the Premier League has been awash with money for so long, is that this is only the sixth time in the last 20 years that the British transfer record is beaten.
If I then told you that the four record deals before Grealish were Paul Pogba (Juventus to Manchester United, £89m), Fernando Torres (Liverpool to Chelsea, £50m), Robinho (Real Madrid to Manchester City , £32.5m) and Andriy Shevchenko (AC Milan to Chelsea, £30.6m), the words poisonous chalice would probably come to mind.
Fernandez has time on his side to change that narrative. Time because of the length of the contract he signed at Stamford Bridge (eight and a half years) but also because of his age – and that, alongside his playing experience, represents something of a change from to the profile of British record transfers in recent times. past.
Grealish was 25 at the time of his record transfer, Torres 26, Robinho 24, Shevchenko 29, Veron 26, Shearer 25. Although Pogba was 23 when he returned to United in 2016, he had already played 178 games for the Juventus.
Overall, all of these players were approaching their peak years at the time of their transfer (Shevchenko was probably on the other side).
Fernandez, on the other hand, only celebrated his 22nd birthday a fortnight ago and has made just 70 career league appearances (17 for Benfica). It’s clearly an exceptional talent but it’s also a staggering amount of money in the circumstances.
Indeed, it’s remarkable to think that we’re even talking about Fernandez in those terms, bearing in mind that just seven months ago he moved to Benfica from River Plate for 14 million euros – as and as investments in football (in fact, make any investment out of it), that transfer takes a few hits.
There is a story about Fernandez in the mixed zone at the World Cup that gives an idea of how far he has come in such a short time. A reporter stopped the midfielder after Argentina beat Poland in their last group stage game and asked: ‘Could this be Enzo Perez’s World Cup?
“I’m Enzo Fernandez,” came the reply.
For the record, Enzo Perez is 36, available for around €1.5m according to Transfermarkt, and played 90 minutes for River Plate on Sunday.
A case of mistaken identity aside, the reporter made a good point when he raised the possibility of Fernandez taking center stage at the World Cup. The midfielder’s introduction from the bench against Mexico in the group stage, in what was only his fifth appearance for his country (he only made his debut for Argentina in September), changed the game in more ways than one.
Fernandez scored against Mexico, started the next game against Poland and played every minute – 420 of them – for Argentina in the round of 16. Indeed, Lionel Scaloni’s midfield was reconfigured around Fernandez (alongside Brighton’s Alex Mac Allister and Rodrigo De Paul), who went on to be named FIFA Young Player of the Tournament.
If hands were now rubbing at the Estadio da Luz, where Fernandez had already got off to a great start, Benfica could never have foreseen the player’s release clause being met so soon.
This, however, turned out to be a perfect storm: a transfer window at the back of a winter World Cup, a 21-year-old playing out of his skin and coming away with a winner’s medal around the neck, and a new Premier League owner with cash to burn and on a mission to make statement signings.
Incredibly, Fernandez is the 17th player to arrive at Chelsea under Todd Boehly ownership, at a total cost of around £600m. To put that figure into context, it’s £265m more than any club’s previous record spending in a season (Barcelona in 2017-18) and makes Boehly’s predecessor spend in 2003 , when Arsenal vice-chairman David Dein accused Roman Abramovich of ‘pulling £50s out of us’, sound rather tame.
Deals that broke the UK transfer record
Age at transfer
Ruud van Nistelrooy
Juan Sebastien Veron
The adage (one that Arsene Wenger has always hammered home to his Arsenal scouts) is that you should never sign a player based on his performance at a World Cup. There is a ‘World Cup tax’ – and Chelsea have clearly paid it here – but the biggest worry is that a player cannot replicate the form he has shown for his country in a small sample of matches.
Chelsea’s groundwork on Fernandez will have gone much further than what happened in Qatar and it’s worth remembering that last summer he was linked with some elite clubs including Juventus and several in the Premier League. League, before joining Benfica. What no one could have imagined at the time, however, is that Fernandez would be a £100m+ footballer in January.
His age and rapid rise, combined with his position as a deep playmaker (although he carries an attacking threat, his contribution won’t be defined by goals and assists), it’s hard to know Fernandez’s true worth. .
All we can say for now is that Chelsea have invested heavily in bringing him to the club – and that figure will follow him for some time.
(Top photo: Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)