enzo race | 

Big twists in the race to sign Argentina World Cup winner Enzo Fernandez

While Liverpool were initially viewed as one of the front-runners for the signature, the Anfield club are not ready to pay his lavish £106m release clause.

Argentina's Enzo Fernandez during the FIFA World Cup Semi-Final match at the Lusail Stadium in Lusail, Qatar. Picture date: Tuesday December 13, 2022.© PA

Kevin PalmerSunday World

He was one of the star performers at the World Cup in Qatar and now the race to sign Benfica’s Enzo Fernandez is set to take a decisive turn.

The next few days will be crucial in deciding what comes next for the 21-year-old Argentine who was named as the best young player at the World Cup.

While Liverpool were initially viewed as one of leading contenders to snare Fernandez, it has now emerged that the Anfield club are not ready to pay his lavish £106million release clause.

After sealing a deal to sign Dutch attacking star Cody Gakpo earlier this week, Liverpool are not anticipating doing a deal for Fernandez in the January transfer window as their focus remains on a move for England and Borussia Dortmund star Jude Bellingham.

Manchester United also appear to be out of the race to sign Fernandez next month despite making initial enquiries, with United boss Erik ten Hag confirming he is not expecting to spend big in January as talks continue over a potential sale of the club in early 2023.

Like Liverpool, United’s focus will be on next summer’s transfer window, with new owners potentially in place by then who would have the finances to transform the club’s ambitions.

As Liverpool and United appear to be out of the expensive race to sign Fernandez, Real Madrid could make their move in the coming days.

Yet it seems Chelsea are now primed to land a player who fits the mould of what the Stamford Bridge club are looking for in 2023.

With N’Golo Kante and Jorginho coming to the end of their time at Chelsea as their contracts are set to expire next summer, young midfielders are at the top of the club’s wanted list.

New technical director Christopher Vivell is working on a potential deal for Fernandez and it seems Chelsea are prepared to break their transfer record to sign the player.

Chelsea’s current transfer record is the £97.5million they paid to sign Romelu Lukaku from Inter Milan in the summer of 2021, but a deal for Fernandez could eclipse that offer.

While a deal has yet to be finalised with Benfica of the player’s agents, Chelsea’s willingness to pay the release clause puts them in the strongest position to secure a deal.

Benfica coach Roger Schmidt has spoken to Fernandez about his future and these comments suggest a move is possible next month.

"I can’t reveal those conversations,” said Schmidt.

“When I talk to the players, these are things I keep to myself. What I can say is what I’ve already said. We all know what football is like.

“These young people have opportunities, and it’s not just about Enzo. If they have opportunities, they have to make decisions, and I respect them.

“I can advise them, but they only have one career. If I can convince them or influence them in a certain way, I try to do it, but I accept their decisions.”

Reports in Portugal suggest Benfica are considering handing Fernandez a new contract to ensure he remains in their squad ahead of a sale next summer.

Yet a deal for him to leave next month will be triggered if his lavish release clause is met, with Fernandez reported to be keen to seal a move to England’s Premier League.

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