THE BIG INTERVIEW: Federico Fernandez

31st October 2015

Having helped his country reach a World Cup final just over a year ago, Federico Fernandez had been hoping to toast his country's second final in as many years as Argentina exceeded expectations at this year's Rugby World Cup.
Although his compatriots fell just short of reaching their first-ever World Cup final when they were beaten by Australia in their semi-final fixture last weekend, the underdogs could at least celebrate a dazzling display in defeat.
A nation once seen as a team full of brute force but lacking in technical ability, Argentina produced performances of stereotypical tenacity and bravery blended with flair and high-rev pace on their way to the cusp of history.
In the end, it wasn't to be. But they captured the imagination of a nation, and Fernandez smiles at the mention of his compatriots' heroic efforts.
"I am very happy for these guys, who put on a great show," says Fernandez, who missed out on World Cup glory of his own when Argentina were beaten by Germany in Brazil in 2014.
"I know how they must have been feeling - the excitement and the pressure. It has been a very important moment for rugby in Argentina.
"This tournament will push the sport further and change things. There are a lot of young players in this team and Argentinean people are very excited."
Fernandez was one of those supporters that cheered on his nation in their quarter-final clash at the Millennium Stadium, when Argentina disposed of Ireland in convincing style.
"It was my first rugby game, so it was amazing that it was the quarter-final of the World Cup - such a big game against Ireland," reflects the 26-year-old, who believes he can take inspiration from his countrymen's efforts.
"I met Joaquin Tuculet, the Argentina full-back, after the game because the players stayed in the stadium to celebrate with the supporters. He supports Estudiantes, the club I used to play for.
"I heard that Maradona was in Cardiff too, but I didn't see him!"
Having grown up in Tres Algarrobos, a town located approximately 280 miles west of Buenos Aires, rugby wasn't part of the curriculum during Fernandez's schooldays. 
Football was - and still is, despite the growing stature of rugby - Argentina's national sport, and the articulate defender instead spent his days in his "relaxed" and "quiet" hometown with a round-shaped ball at his feet, dreaming of following in the footsteps of his idol and former Valencia centre-back Roberto Ayala.
"The kids would always play in the street," reminisces Fernandez. "When I was a little boy, I would always have a ball with me.
"I used to play on a Saturday or a Sunday, and then I would go to the stadium to support Estudiantes."

It wasn't long before the tall centre-back swapped the stands for the pitch in La Plata. His big break came when his father called Estudiantes to ask if his 14-year-old son could have a trial.
The six-time Primera Division winners saw enough in a week to recognise his talent, and so began what Fernandez describes a "special" eight years with his hometown club.
It's easy to understand why. He went on to help the club win the Copa Libertadores - South America's equivalent of the UEFA Champions League - in 2009, and then the Argentinean league title the following year.
His time at the club also coincided with Juan Sebastian Veron's fairytale return to the club where he started his career.
"He changed the club," Fernandez enthuses. "Veron is a hero and Estudiantes for him and his father is historic.
"He is the club president now, and I am still in contact with him. He was a big influence on my career because we played together for a long time, and he experienced a lot in Europe and with the national team, so he helped me become a better player."
The former Manchester United midfielder, who passed on a lot of advice to Estudiantes' younger players, even gave Fernandez his very best 'Mystic Meg' impersonation when he correctly predicted that a young Federico would go on to "play for the national team and in Europe."
After making his professional debut in a 1-0 defeat to Velez Sarsfield in September 2008, Fernandez fulfilled both those prophecies, making his international debut in April 2011 before moving to Serie A side Napoli a few months later.
Fernandez hasn't looked back since. His best season at Napoli, which happened to be his last, saw him help the club finish third in Serie A and win the Coppa Italia, earning him a £7 million transfer to the Swans that following summer.
He made a big impression during his debut campaign last season, slotting seamlessly into the Swansea back line and forming a fantastic understanding with his defensive partner and captain Ashley Williams.
And despite only being here for little over a year, Fernandez has already developed a firm grasp of the English language, which he believes has been key to his on-field success.
"I am still learning and continue to have lessons, but it is much better than last year," smiles Fernandez, analysing his own English.
"Obviously, it's important now for my time playing for Swansea, but it's very important for life also.
"English is the first language in the world and I want to speak it very well. But it's very important for my job on the pitch, because in my position I'm always speaking. Communication is important because, as a defender, you view the whole situation."
Off the field, Fernandez is equally happy, having settled in the area with his girlfriend Florencia.
"I am very happy here. It is a quiet city, and I like this because in Napoli it was a big city and very busy.
"Here it is just five minutes to the training ground and five minutes to the Liberty Stadium. The people are very friendly, and the guys who work at the club help me all the time."
The son of a geography teacher, Fernandez also enjoys exploring the world whenever he gets the opportunity, while his parents make the trip from his homeland to visit him in Swansea whenever the chance arises.
"We love travelling a lot," says the 26-year-old. "Whenever we have the opportunity - two or three days off - we go to a different place.
"It depends how many days we have off, but I've been to Edinburgh, London, Paris, Bath, Dublin, Bristol - lots of places. I like to try different cities and explore.
"My family come and visit Swansea, but they are still living in Argentina. My parents have finished working now, so they have the opportunity to relax and enjoy seeing the family.
"My brother and sister have both moved closer to Buenos Aires, so they travel a lot too.
"I don't go back to Argentina often - maybe once a year, because the journey is so long."
But for Fernandez, his journey at Swansea City continues.