Beating out competition from teammate Julian Alvarez and France’s Aurelien Tchouameni, Enzo Fernandez became the 17th winner of the Fifa Best Young Player Award in Qatar. The little-known midfielder had just three international caps for Argentina before becoming an integral part of La Albiceleste’s World Cup success. The Straits Times looks at six interesting facts about the 21-year-old.
1. He is the youngest player to score for Argentina since Lionel Messi
At just 21 years, 10 months and 13 days old, Fernandez became the youngest scorer for Argentina since Lionel Messi in 2006.
Coming on as a substitute against Mexico in the group stage, the 21-year-old scored the second goal to seal an all-important three points.
He also infamously became the youngest Argentinian to score an own goal at the World Cup, after diverting Craig Goodwin’s shot into his own net but Argentina triumphed 2-1 over Australia in the round of 16.
2. He graduated from River Plate’s famed academy
Alongside teammates Julian Alvarez, Gonzalo Montiel, German Pezzella and Exequiel Palacios, Fernandez was a graduate of Argentinian powerhouses River Plate’s academy.
He made 40 appearances for the first team in the past two seasons, returning an impressive 10 goals from a deep midfield position.
The famed River Plate youth system has also produced Argentinian legends such as Pablo Aimar, Javier Mascherano and Gonzalo Higuain.
3. He has a €120 million release clause with Benfica
Top European clubs have been strongly linked with him, most notably Liverpool and Manchester United. According to journalist Fabrizio Romano, however, they would have to shell out €120 million (S$170 million) to acquire Fernandez’s services.
Portuguese giants Benfica paid just one tenth of his release clause – €12 million – to prise the rising midfield talent from River Plate in July.
Greats of the game have lavished praise on the new star. Premier League legend Alan Shearer even joked: “Let’s see if he would like to play against Bournemouth (for Newcastle) on Tuesday night.”
4. He is the first Argentinian to win the award
As the 17th winner of the Fifa Young Player Award, which was inaugurated in 1958 and first won by Pele, Fernandez became the first Argentinian and second South American to bag the coveted individual trophy.
He joins the esteemed company of Michael Owen, Paul Pogba, Thomas Muller and Kylian Mbappe as players to have won the award.
The first South American who won the award was 20-year-old Peruvian Teofillo Cubillas in 1970.
5. He grew up in an under-privileged family
His father Raul was a painter and mother Martha was a cleaner. Fernandez grew up in a working-class household and had to work menial jobs with his elder siblings at a young age to make ends meet.
At one point in his life, he considered dropping his football career to help his family financially but his parents insisted that he continued with it.
Fernandez’s story will no doubt inspire many other young Argentinian footballers to follow in his footsteps.
6. He was named after Uruguayan three-time Copa America winner Enzo Francescoli
Fernandez’s father, Raul, despite being Argentinian, was so fascinated with Uruguayan footballer Enzo Francescoli that he decided to name his son after the South American legend.
Francescoli, who played at the 1986 and 1990 World Cups, also starred for River Plate.
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