‘I was pretty young!’ - Enzo Fernandez reflects on his Lionel Messi retirement plea as Chelsea & Argentina star hails ‘great team-mate’
- All-time great wanted to walk away in 2016
- Was talked into making a U-turn
- Is now a World Cup winner
WHAT HAPPENED? The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner announced that he would be walking away from the Albiceleste camp in 2016 on the back of penalty shootout heartache in the Copa America final. Messi felt there was nothing more he could do in a bid for major honours with his country, but was eventually talked out of a drastic decision and went on to savour continental glory with Argentina in 2021 and a long-awaited World Cup triumph at Qatar 2022.
WHAT THEY SAID: Fernandez played a very small part in that U-turn from Messi, with a passionate Facebook message sent to an iconic fellow countryman reading: “Do what you want, Lionel, but please think about staying. Stay and have fun. In a world of ridiculous pressures, they manage to get the most noble thing out of the game, the fun. Seeing you play with the light blue and white is the greatest pride in the world. Play for fun, because when you're having fun, you have no idea how much fun we have. Thank you and forgive us.”
Fernandez, who now plays alongside Messi for Argentina, has told Chelsea’s official website of that plea: “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 any more. 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.”
THE BIGGER PICTURE: Fernandez lived out his boyhood dream when tasting World Cup glory alongside Messi in Qatar, with the midfielder – who has since become the most expensive player in British football following his £106.8 million ($131m) transfer to Chelsea from Benfica in January – saying of operating in the same team as an all-time great: “I’ve always said Leo Messi was a player I look up to. I’ve always tried to learn from him. He’s a great person and has given me love and support within the team. 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.”
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WHAT NEXT? Chelsea are currently the focus for Fernandez, with the 22-year-old South American looking to help the Blues snap out of a slump that sees them sat 10th in the Premier League table while also trailing a Champions League last-16 showdown with Borussia Dortmund 1-0 on aggregate.