What does a nine-figure sum get you in the transfer market these days? Two such examples will take to the pitch as Chelsea face Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday night. Two midfielders, one who has already moved for such a sum and another who will surely command it one day, will be on opposing sides.
Chelsea are likely to field their recent British record £106 million acquisition Enzo Fernandez. Meanwhile, Dortmund will likely line up with England’s prodigious Jude Bellingham in their midfield. While the Birmingham City academy graduate is yet to secure a long-rumoured move to the Premier League or La Liga, he will almost certainly go for upwards of £100 million when the time comes.
Of course these wildly distorted price-tags carry almost no weight in real-world economics. The £106 million Chelsea co-owner Todd Boehly sanctioned for Fernandez is enough to buy an island and leave you with £30 million in change. No, seriously. Great Island, Connecticut was listed for sale for £76 million last year.
But still, despite modern transfer fees existing almost entirely outside of traditional commerce, you would still expect one hell of a player for a British record fee. It is too early to tell if the west London club have got one. There have been moments of promise across his two appearances, including a tidy cross to assist Joao Felix’s first Chelsea goal against West Ham United at the weekend. But there is no escaping the fact Fernandez’s signing was a gamble, particularly for such a fee.
Fernandez was signed primarily off the back of a dazzling World Cup. The midfielder was a crucial part of Argentina lifting the trophy, scooping the Young Player of the Tournament award along the way. But the way Chelsea signed him betrayed a negligence in the way they do business. Fernandez had only joined Benfica in the summer, for a fee believed to be around £8.8 million up front with add-ons taking it closer to £16 million. A better-run recruitment department would have found the player at River Plate, as Benfica did, rather than needing a World Cup and a nine-figure fee to bring him on board.
In contrast, Bellingham appeared on a number of radars when he was still taking his formative steps at St Andrews. It is well-documented that Real Madrid have tracked him since his youth, while Manchester United wheeled out Sir Alex Ferguson and Eric Cantona to try to dazzle the boy into signing. But the wonderkid wound up at Dortmund, a thriving yellow-clad talent factory that combines the trappings of a superclub with that of an elite-level finishing school.
One thing Dortmund isn’t is a destination. In most cases, it is a stop on the road to bigger, or at least more lucrative things. Erling Haaland sharpened his tools at Signal Iduna Park before using them to slice open Premier League defences. Jadon Sancho may not yet have dazzled Manchester United, but his exploits in the Bundesliga convinced them he might. Bellingham has long been earmarked as the next to make this transition.
The England star is certainly going the right way about it. Bellingham was another of the World Cup’s standout talents. He is also enjoying his most effective club season yet. Bellingham’s 10 goals in all competitions so far this campaign is already twice as many as he has ever scored in a full season. With the Premier League elite and Real Madrid circling, Bellingham’s form makes him almost irresistible to clubs with a sizable bank balance.
They might well need every penny. Fernandez went for a huge fee when he is arguably less accomplished than Bellingham at this stage in their careers. While the Argentina international has a World Cup on his CV, it arrived after just 10 international caps. Bellingham boasts 22 already. The England midfielder also has 46 more club games on his CV than Fernandez. The fact that he is three years younger should also see him go for a significantly larger fee when the time comes.
Football isn’t measured in pure financial terms of course. Nor will Bellingham and Fernandez’s accomplishments come down solely to their transfer fees. It is about what they can add to a team. On that score, Bellingham is slightly ahead. The Dortmund star is an indispensable part of one of Europe’s most iconic clubs. Fernandez is yet to really receive that opportunity. His 11 goal involvements in 29 Benfica games this season suggest he can have an impact. Now it is about making the transition to the Premier League as smoothly and effectively as possible.
A Champions League date with destiny is a great test of what Enzo will bring. It’s also a highly-visible show window for Bellingham to reconnect with his Premier League suitors. Just don’t expect either player to fully justify a nine-figure price tag over the course of a mere 180 minutes of football. After all, no man is an island.