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Enzo Fernandez uses pointed celebration after Chelsea wondergoal to fire message to critics

Enzo Fernandez celebrates scoring a free-kick for Chelsea at Aston Villa

It will be 2031 when Enzo Fernandez’s contract at Chelsea expires and should he still be playing at Stamford Bridge in the next decade, the Argentina midfielder will look back at a freezing evening at Villa Park when he angrily answered questions over his commitment to the club.

After curling a perfect free-kick over Aston Villa’s wall and into the top corner, Fernandez was off running towards the away support. His blue shirt was torn off and he pointed to himself, then at the ground. The message was clear: I’m staying here.

Fernandez has been enigmatic since his arrival from Benfica broke the Premier League transfer record just over a year ago. It turns out to get the best out of the £106 million player is to make him angry, with his celebration a direct response to a report this week stating he wanted to leave Chelsea.

His agent, Uriel Pérez, had already released a statement insisting “the player has no intention of leaving” but this was emphatic from the player himself. As he walked back to the centre circle for the restart, he repeated his gesture to fans. It was as emotionally charged as he has been in the last year.

“We live in an era when it is easy to abuse public people and it is normal that the players are human and not robots,” said Pochettino. “These types of situations make us angry, they are completely unfair. He showed his quality. It is so important creating a very good energy between our fans and the players because the players need help from the fans, who were fantastic tonight.”

The moments of magic expected from a player costing a nine-figure fee have been few and far between in the last 12 months, not helped by Chelsea’s slide down the Premier League table. It took him until December to score his first Premier League goals, which came against Brighton, and he has not found the net since away from knockout games.

In this cup tie, on display was the type of impact Pochettino wants every week. Shifting the ball around the pitch, moving his team forward from his position at the base of midfield, then adding a goal with his perfect free-kick.

At the final whistle, Fernandez was in possession and grabbed the ball out of relief, embracing Ben Chilwell, his captain, then getting the plaudits from his team-mates as they saluted the supporters who travelled up the M40.

His move on such a long-term deal, eight-and-a-half years, led to a change in the rules so the maximum player contract is now five years. But this was the type of performance that offered hope of legacy on the pitch for Chelsea. He played a key role in dominating Villa’s midfield of Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.

“There is no doubt he is a world champion player,” added Pochettino. “When he signed a year ago, he arrived after two years with no holiday or rest, with the pressure and still young. There was the different language and environment, a team that needed time to build and all these circumstances need time.

“I don’t want to annoy the people by making excuses, I believe in the player but don’t want to compare him to anything or create expectations that is not the reality. I want to help the player try to build something.

“When these types of performances happen, it is difficult to talk about the opponent as we dominated and were the better side. One of the keys was the midfield but the key was how the team reacted, the way we talked and in the meetings and the feeling that translated to me. It is important to be together and I really enjoyed it on the touchline.”

Fernandez’s representative pointed out that it was a long-term project that his client had signed up to. Pochettino expects it to take time too, although there could be silverware at the end of his first full season in English football.

“The leaders were very clear with this project. It is a plan that was going to be difficult at the beginning because new and young players were going to arrive, but when the pieces of the team fit together well, Chelsea was going to move forward,” Perez added.

“We don’t meet with any clubs or try to talk to any clubs. Enzo Fernández’s desire is to be on the team and succeed]. We know what the player’s desire is . Obviously he would like the club to be in another position, but that will be achieved with work.”

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