LONDON, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Chelsea announced the signing of Enzo Fernandez from Benfica on Wednesday after days of complex negotiations between the clubs to secure the Argentine midfielder for a British record £106.8 million transfer fee. pounds ($131.46 million).
As deadline day drew to a close on Tuesday, it appeared that a deal might not be reached, but a statement from Benfica confirmed that it had been done shortly before 2300 GMT.
Premier League club Chelsea announced the signing at 1000 GMT on Wednesday via a video on Twitter, which showed a clip of a ticking clock, referring to the race against time to sign the World Cup winner.
Benfica’s statement said Chelsea would pay the contract release fee for the 22-year-old, who has signed an eight-and-a-half-year deal with the London club.
In January alone, Chelsea’s transfer spending is approaching £300m and more than £500m since the takeover last May by an investment group led by American Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
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Boehly has sanctioned more spending in this transfer window than the combined total of all clubs in Europe’s other top leagues: the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.
According to media reports, Chelsea will pay the release fee in several installments, the number of which became a sticking point for the deal as late as Tuesday afternoon.
“Sport Lisboa e Benfica – Futebol, SAD informs that it has reached an agreement with Chelsea FC for the sale of all the rights of the player Enzo Fernández, for an amount of 121,000,000 euros,” says a statement from Benfica .
Benfica signed Fernández in July 2022 from River Plate, who will also benefit from the deal thanks to a 25% sell-on clause. Fernández scored four goals and provided seven assists in 29 games in all competitions for Benfica this season.
His fee dwarfs the £100m Manchester City paid Aston Villa for England midfielder Jack Grealish in 2021.
Fernández was instrumental in Argentina’s campaign to win the World Cup in Qatar, breaking into the starting line-up and playing every game, scoring one of the goals in a vital win over Mexico in the group stage.
He capped the tournament by winning the Young Player Award as Argentina won the trophy for the first time since 1986.
Benfica manager Roger Schmidt was not keen on Fernandez leaving, but had said their hands would be tied if a club paid the player’s release clause.
“Benfica is much bigger than one player. We need players who are happy to play for Benfica, who are passionate,” he said after his side’s 3-0 La Liga win at Arouca on Tuesday.
“If any player decides to leave and a club (is willing to) pay the clause, we can’t do anything. We accept and wait.”
Fernandez is Chelsea’s eighth signing in the mid-season transfer window after the London club signed Mykhailo Mudryk, Benoit Badiashile, Noni Madueke, Andrey Santos, David Fofana and Malo Gusto, while Joao Felix arrived on loan from Atlético de Madrid. All of them are 23 years old or younger.
Chelsea sold experienced midfielder Jorginho to Premier League leaders Arsenal for £12m on Tuesday. However, Paris St Germain’s bid to sign Moroccan Hakim Ziyech on loan failed due to a delay in paperwork.
Questions will be asked about how Chelsea have managed to spend so much money on transfers in light of the Financial Fair Play rules, but for manager Graham Potter it is now about trying to combine so many new faces and revive Chelsea’s season.
They are 10th in the Premier League, 10 points off one of the top four places. Next Friday they will host local rivals Fulham.
($1 = 0.8124 pounds)
Reporting by Martyn Herman and Manasi Pathak; Editing by Toby Davis/Peter Rutherford and Christian Radnedge
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