This article was first published in Champions Journal. Read the original article here.
You will almost certainly never have noticed it, but Enzo Fernández gets nervous. Chelsea’s beautifully talented 22-year-old Argentinian controls it, 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 show time.
So, just for a moment, put yourself in his place. It’s the World Cup quarter-final, 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 eleven-metre effort wide of goal. Most of the Lusail Stadium in Qatar groans. The Dutch 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, to stick the ball past Netherlands’ 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 24 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 the opening match
· score against Mexico
· giveaway an own goal in the knockout match against Australia
· miss that quarter-final penalty against the Netherlands
· help create Los Albiceleste’s third goal in a frantic final
· that Messi would duly lift the hallowed trophy
· that Buenos Aires would come to a frenzied standstill while over five million people celebrated uninhibitedly
· that he’d be named young player of the World Cup
· that he’d leave Benfica after only playing 29 times for them
· that he’d join Chelsea for a British-record £107 million fee, and then, immediately, help knock Borussia Dortmund out of the Champions League.
Perhaps the most extraordinary 105 days in the history of any footballer?
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? The enormity?
“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 [of the final] against France my family and friends were in the stands, and 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 which 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,” Fernández admits. “But then in the evenings 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.