Hernan Crespon has had an illustrious career filled with trophies and personal accolades. Liam Bekker takes a look back at the Argentine striker.
Hernan Crespo’s love affair with football began blossoming in 1993 when he took to the field for the first time for local club River Plate as an exciting 18 year old. The Argentine striker spent three years at River, winning the Golden Boot award in 1994 and helping them to a famous Copa Libertadores title – a tie in which he scored twice to lead his club to victory – in his final season.
Crespo’s stellar performances saw him depart from his homeland later that year when a Parma side jam-packed with superstars came calling for his signature. Things couldn’t have started off worse for Crespo as he failed to score a single goal in his first six months at the club but Carlo Ancelotti’s insistence on playing him paid dividends as the classy Argentine ended up scoring twelve goals by the end of the season, in the process helping Parma to second place in the League.
That first season laid the foundation for something special as Valandito transformed himself from being a promising youngster into one of the world’s best strikers in the years that followed. With pace, power and a precise finish like few others, Crespo announced himself to the world as one of the most complete forwards around and in doing so led Parma to UEFA Cup, Coppa Italia and Italian Super Cup titles in his four seasons at the club.
DID YOU KNOW | Hernan Crespo was the first ever player to score in both the Copa Libertadores final and the Champions League final.
His goal scoring prowess placed him firmly in the hearts of the Parma faithful who had become accustomed to seeing the flowing locks and outstretched arms of Crespo streaking towards the corner flag in celebration of yet another goal. In fact, Crespo hit the back of the net on 62 occasions in Serie A for Parma at a rate of more than a goal every second game. His journey at the club had been a fairytale of sorts with the Argentine overcoming his early goal scoring hardships and the wrath of the fans before going on to become the pride and joy of not just the club, but the entire city of Parma. Joy would turn to mourning soon enough though as Crespo departed the club (for the time being at least) in the year 2000 when Lazio broke the bank, and the then world record, by paying an estimated £35 million for the prolific striker.
It was at Lazio that Crespo would hit his best goal scoring form, netting an incredible 39 goals in just 55 league games for the club – a haul which included a Golden Boot winning tally of 26 goals in his first season in Rome. His tenure at the club though, which included another Super Coppa title, ended prematurely as Lazio’s intense financial troubles forced their hand into selling Crespo to Serie A rivals Internazionale in 2002. Crespo continued his fine goal scoring form in Milan, especially in the Champions League where he scored 9 times but his single season at Inter was riddled with injuries – a plight that had begun leaving its mark on the striker at Lazio already and one which would plague him up until his final kick of the ball.
DID YOU KNOW | Hernan Crespo was the first ever player to score goals with five different teams in the Champions League
Despite this though, a money rich Chelsea still regarded Crespo as being one of the deadliest strikers in world football and snapped him up in 2003. His first season in London was solid yet unspectacular with a goal scoring return of 10 league goals in 19 appearances. The arrival of one Jose Mourinho at Stamford Bridge, however, would throw a spanner in the works for Crespo at Chelsea as the ‘Special One’ regarded the Argentine striker as being surplus to his needs and loaned him back to Italy, this time in the colours of AC Milan.
Crespo’s return to the city of Milan saw him re-join coach Carlo Ancelotti and partner Andriy Shevchenko up front in an impressive AC Milan side that boasted the likes of Kaka, Andrea Pirlo and Gennaro Gattuso, amongst others. Having reached double figures in the league and his incredible brace-scoring performance in the famous 2005 Istanbul Champions League final saw Crespo become a fan favourite and proved that he was still at the top of his game, despite Mourinho’s lack of faith in the Argentine.
He would, however, return to the field for Chelsea in the 05-06 season where he added another ten Premier League goals to his name. Crespo scored an impressive 26 goals in all competitions that season but it was a uniquely special one for him as he collected his first ever league title with Chelsea beating Manchester United to the crown.
DID YOU KNOW
Hernan Crespo never received a single red card in his 19 year long career.
Crespo is currently head of Parma’s youth academy
His relationship with Mourinho soured further soon after, and this, coupled with his more-than-apparent longing to return to Italy saw him re-join Inter on loan in August 2006. Crespo’s loan at Inter spell would last two seasons and earned him two Scudetto titles. Inter signed him permanently the next season following the expiration of his contract at Chelsea but at this stage, age and injuries had begun to catch up with Crespo and the subsequent arrival of none other than Jose Mourinho at the club meant that game time became something of a rarity – the Argentine was even excluded from the club’s Champions League campaign. Despite this, Crespo still made a valuable contribution in front of goal and was rewarded with his third Scudetto in three seasons.
Having only signed a one-year deal, Crespo was free to leave Inter the following season and took the opportunity to join fellow Italian side Genoa. He spent less than a year at the club before making a dramatic return to his much loved Parma where he would see out his footballing days. Throughout his career, Crespo had become something of a journeyman but it was at Parma that he had planted his roots and it was at Parma that he would say his final farewell. It was the perfect setting for him to bring an end to a glittering career and it was the perfect ending to his Parmesan fairy-tale.
On top of all his successes at club level, Hernan Crespo made a valuable and lasting contribution to the Argentinian national side. He made his debut for the national team in 1995 but struggled to solidify his spot thereafter as Gabriel Batistuta had made the striker position his own. Batistuta retired after the 2002 World Cup which opened the door for Crespo to make a name for himself, an opportunity he took with both feet as he went on a goal scoring spree for Argentina. He was the top goal scorer in the 2006 World Cup qualifiers and followed this up by sharing the Silver Boot award at the World Cup itself. All in all, Crespo scored 35 goals in just 64 appearances for Argentina and by the time he retired, he was the country’s 3rd highest all-time top goal scorer.
When Hernan Crespo arrived in Italy he arrived with the words fare non parlare – don’t talk, do. It is this attitude that will see him go down in history as being one of the finest strikers of his generation. His horizontal runs behind the defence and his clinical finishing made him a nightmare to face and a joy to watch. He left his mark across the globe but his biggest influence came in Italy where he is still regarded as being of the leagues deadliest ever strikers. As mentioned before, he is most missed by those in Parma where in just four seasons he became the clubs all-time top goal scorer. His goal scoring exploits coupled with his dedication and desire to prove himself to the I Gialloblù faithful never went unnoticed and in 2013 Crespo was named as Parma’s greatest ever player. A tribute befitting a true legend of the game.
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