Enzo Fernandez has hailed the impact that Argentina team-mate and idol Lionel Messi has had on his career during one of his first interviews since joining Chelsea for a British record fee of £107million.
The 22-year-old, who played alongside Messi as Argentina won the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, was handed the young player of the tournament award for his impressive displays.
His performances in the tournament led to his big-money move from Benfica to the Blues during the January transfer window.
The energetic midfielder was, however, keen to praise the impact PSG star Messi has had on his career to this stage, both as a team-mate, an inspiration and a competitor.
‘I’ve always said Leo Messi was a player I look up to,’ Fernandez told the Chelsea club website.
‘I’ve always tried to learn from him. He’s a great person and has given me love and support within the team.’
Prior to Fernandez switch to Stamford Bridge from Benfica, he also came up against his Argentina team-mate in the Champions League group-stages.
Both of the group stage clashes between the two sides ended 1-1 as they finished as the top two teams in their group.
Fernandez added: ‘I also had to face him when I played for Benfica in the Champions League, as he played for PSG.
‘Right after that, we became team-mates in the Argentina squad. He’s a great person.
‘Very humble, hard-working. He deserves everything he’s achieved in football.’
The recent World Cup triumph has ensured a terrific international career for Messi, having also won the U20 World Cup in 2005, the Olympics in 2008, the Copa America in 2021 and the Finalissima against European champions Italy in 2022.
Although, the former Barcelona star did briefly hang up his boots in 2016 after losing three consecutive finals, including the 2014 World Cup.
Fernandez defended Messi on social media at just the age of 15 and urged him to re-think his retirement decision.
He even recalled those moments of struggle for Argentina and Messi’s brief time away from representing his nation.
‘I remember we went through tough times with the squad, and the press criticised Leo so harshly. I tried to explain how I feel about him.
‘I asked him to stay, as he said he wouldn’t play for the team anymore. I defended him to stay with us, playing for the squad.
‘I was pretty young back then! He means a lot to everyone in the world. He’s a legend for Argentina.
‘He’s a loved person, an idol for all Argentinians, for our children. As a person, I have no complaints about him. He’s always given me so much love.
‘He’s always respected me and was a great team-mate in all senses. I’m very thankful for having played with him.’