Chelsea smash British transfer record to sign Benfica's Fernandez
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 Argentina midfielder for a British transfer record 106.8 million pounds ($131.46 million).
As the deadline day approached its end on Tuesday, it appeared 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 on Wednesday 1000 GMT via a video on Twitter, which showed a clip of a clock ticking down, making a reference to 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.
It takes Chelsea's transfer spending in January alone to close to 300 million pounds and to more than 500 million pounds since last May's takeover by an investment group led by American Todd Boehly and Clearlake Capital.
Boehly has sanctioned more spending in this transfer window than the combined total of all clubs in Europe's other big leagues -- the Bundesliga, La Liga, Serie A and Ligue 1.
According to media reports, Chelsea will pay the release fee in several instalments -- the number of which became a sticking point for the deal until late on Tuesday.
"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 Fernandez, for an amount of 121,000,000 euros," a Benfica statement read.
Benfica signed Fernandez in July 2022 from River Plate, who will also benefit from the deal courtesy of a 25% sell-on clause. Fernandez bagged four goals and seven assists in 29 games in all competitions for Benfica this season.
His fee eclipses the 100 million pounds Manchester City paid Aston Villa for England midfielder Jack Grealish in 2021.
Fernandez was instrumental in Argentina's World Cup-winning campaign in Qatar, breaking into the starting lineup and playing every game, scoring one of the goals in a vital victory over Mexico in the group phase.
He capped off the tournament by bagging the Young Player Award as Argentina won the trophy for the first time since 1986.
Benfica boss Roger Schmidt was not keen on seeing Fernandez leave but had said their hands would be tied if a club paid the player's release clause.
"Benfica is much bigger than one single player. We need players who are happy to play for Benfica, who are passionate," he said on Tuesday after his side's 3-0 league win at Arouca.
"If some player decides to leave and a club (are willing to) pay the clause, then we cannot do anything. We accept and look forward."
Fernandez is Chelsea's eighth recruit 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 Atletico Madrid. All of them are 23 or younger.
On Tuesday, Chelsea sold experienced midfielder Jorginho to Premier League leaders Arsenal for 12 million pounds. However, Paris St Germain's attempt to sign Morocco's Hakim Ziyech on loan failed because of a hold-up in the paperwork.
Questions will be asked about how Chelsea have managed to spend so much money on transfers in light of Financial Fair Play rules but for manager Graham Potter it is now about trying to blend in so many new faces and revive Chelsea's season.
They are 10th in the Premier League, 10 points adrift of a top four spot. They next host local rivals Fulham on Friday.
($1 = 0.8124 pounds)
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