Revelation of a World Cup where he largely participated in the Argentinian coronation, Enzo Fernández had nevertheless started it in the shadows, as a substitute. This rise nevertheless remains similar to that which he has known in recent months in a club: dazzling at the risk of losing his support. Coveted by Chelsea, the now ex-darling of Benfica sees his relations with the Lisbon people refresh.
Enzo Fernandez. It is a name that has been difficult to miss for a few weeks. At 21, the Argentinian midfielder is already a world champion and has shown himself to the eyes of the planet as one of the hopes to be counted on for the years to come. However, he remained relatively unknown to the general public despite a flamboyant start to the season in Portugal with SL Benfica, where he arrived last July. Magician with the ball at the foot, physical warrior or tactical master, there is no shortage of clichés in Portugal to designate one of the players in the Eagles’ great start to the season. Leader in the league with six points ahead of Braga and top of their group in the Champions League ahead of PSG, Sport Lisboa e Benfica will advance next February for an expected round of 16 against Bruges. A deadline for which the club would still like to be able to count on its Argentine nugget, despite the very insistent interests and the uncourteous methods of some of the biggest European clubs.
Buenos Aires or Lisbon, same niche for Enzo
Talking about Enzo Fernández is above all talking about River Plate, the club that saw him and made him grow. After years of training and a loan to Defensa y Justicia, the Argentinian midfielder exploded under the orders of Marcelo Gallardo. His passing qualities and his game intelligence were talked about all over the South American continent and soon crossed the Atlantic. Despite the interest of several major European clubs such as Milan, Benfica or PSG from June, Enzo Fernández is focused on one and only goal: winning the Copa Libertadores for his only love, River Plate. This story, which could have been rose water, however turned sour at the end of June 2022. In the round of 16, Vélez Sársfield defied all predictions and eliminated the colossus from the River with a small goal from the penalty spot in the double confrontation. At the same time, Benfica, who were finalizing the transfer of the player and pushing for a transfer in July rather than January, got rid of a thorn in their side. A week after the elimination in Libertadores, the midfielder is formalized by the Eagles for a sum of 10 million euros with 8 as a bonus.
In Lisbon, Enzo Fernández is once again experiencing a lightning ascent. On the evening of July 15, barely 24 hours after landing in Lisbon, the 21-year-old is already propelled as a starter in the friendly match against OGC Nice in the Algarve, southern Portugal. Aligned alongside Florentino Luís behind the trio of attacking midfielders, he quickly convinced the supporters of the Portuguese capital after a successful preparation and, above all, an exceptional month of August. During the third preliminary round of qualifying for the Champions League against Midtjylland, he scored with a magnificent volley from outside the penalty area. The following days, he scored two new goals against Arouca in the league and then in the return match against Midtjylland. In short, three pawns on his first three official matches under the red tunic of the Eagles. His game is based above all on his vision of the game and his quality of passing which allow him to create gaps or to distinguish himself by often decisive crosses (5 assists since August). If we add his defensive involvement and his energy, Enzo Fernández quickly became a centerpiece of Roger Schmidt’s device. In his role as No. 8 connecting sentry Florentino Luís with the four attacking players, he is a fan favorite benfiquistas. “With what I had been told and what I had seen of the player, I figured he wouldn’t be here for more than a year.admits Dany Barbosa, community animator of the SLB Francophone account on Twitter. As soon as he arrived, he became one of Roger Schmidt’s best players by adapting very quickly to his ideas. » Another indicator of this sudden popularity, the number of jerseys sold by the player: “Between August and September, we mainly flocked the jerseys “Enzo”, “Neres” and “Rapha” » says Tiago, seller of a football shirt shop in Lisbon.
English robbery of the jewel of King Costa
Enzo Fernández is a special player. Having understood this well, the president of Benfica Rui Costa will only part with him this winter if his release clause of 120 million euros is lifted. In this almost idealistic picture of a player who has succeeded in everything for two years, there nevertheless appears a stain of ink which could tarnish the rest of his career. While he has been exemplary on the pitch since joining Benfica, the flip side remains more nuanced. Although it was understood that he would not leave the club this winter – except in the case mentioned above – so as not to disturb the group, the player seems to have changed his tune after the exposure received by the Coupe du world. So much so that in recent days, he has even begun a tour de force with Benfica to join Chelsea, the London club having promised him – behind the back of the Portuguese club – to lift his clause. The player thus spent New Year’s Day in Argentina, despite the ban imposed by the SLB, then missed club training two days later. At a press conference, club coach Roger Schmidt clearly returned to these events: “There is a club (Chelsea) who wants Enzo. They know that we are not a seller, so to have the player on their side, they made him dream by telling him that they would pay his clause. Today, they want to negotiate. This is an unacceptable lack of respect. » Beyond the responsibility of Blues in this case, these events echo the expression used by the player when he arrived in Lisbon last July, when he only mentioned Benfica as a “springboard club” for him. They also give an even more special flavor to the return of the out-of-form player during Benfica’s severe defeat at Braga (3-0) on December 30. “We felt it was much worse than the rest of the seasonspecifies Dany Barbosa. He wasn’t involved, missing things he usually didn’t. »
“Dismissing him against Portimonense, in a trap match, was a risk. By taking it, we also sent a message: no one is above the club. » Dany Barbosa
This season, which had everything to be beautiful, thus takes a much more bitter turn, especially for the supporters. reddened. “We can try to understand the player. It’s sexier to play in the Premier League at the weekend than to go to Vila do Conde (city in northern Portugal where Rio Ave plays in particular), jokes Dany Barbosa. But in Benfica and in Portugal in general, the emotional side is very important. We need to show the weight of our institutions and the fact that no player is above the club. » On the side of the field, Roger Schmidt announced that the tour de force attempted by his player would be followed by ” consequences ” , while recalling the fact that he was counting on him and that he wanted to preserve him for the rest of the season. During the game against Portimonense last Friday, the 21-year-old was left in the stands. It was from there that he watched the whole stadium applaud for the world title of his compatriot Nicolás Otamendi. “His case was well managed by the clubsays Dany Barbosa. Dismissing him against Portimonense, in a trap match, was a risk. By taking it, we also sent a message: no one is above the club. » Regarding the ovation to Otamendi, Dany Barbosa thinks it was “Too bad for Enzo, because it should have been a moment shared by two. I think he may have regretted not having participated in this moment, because the Benfiquistas are very demonstrative of their love ” . And then ? SLB supporters are still divided over the player’s case should he stay. For Dany Barbosa, “It will not be necessary to whistle him at all the matches, but an apology from the player and a shouting from the stadium towards him would not be too much” . The group Fleetwood Mac sang the blues with the following words: “And when the lights are low, and it’s time to go, that’s when I need your love so badly.” » This may be the next step between Enzo Fernández and the supportersbenfiquistas. That of reconciliation at a time when divorce seemed inevitable.
By Amaury Gonçalves, in Lisbon
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